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I could not even contemplate, dear Mrs. Benson, offering 
these pages to anyone but you, not only for the sake of the active 
good-will with which you sanctioned the suggestion that I should 
write them, and of the help you have all the while so generously 
given me, but because when once I had read the letters that 
passed between yourself and Hugh, I simply had no choice. 
In his life he had your unique affection, profound and per- 
manent; all of that life that by God's law he might, he gave 
to you : it would be robbing, so to say, the altar, if I kept back, 
or offered elsewhere, this biography {diffidently written, believe 
me, and blazoning in every paragraph the consciousness of its 

Asking myself, then, how I ought to try to write it, I re- 
membered that you once said to him about a more famous 
biography : 

" There isn't a shadow on the whole portrait, fust imagine 
it. I am going to hint gently that even glaciers have shadows, 
and very blue and delicious ones too — and to ask for the mention 
of a few endearing faults (/ donU believe his were, but I shall 
ask all the same)." 

And as one long a friend of yours so emphatically reminded 
me, '^ II faut respecter le type que Dieu cherche a produire en 

So, while I certainly would never have been able, I most 
assuredly have never wished, to write a vie de sacristie, / have 


tried hard to say what I saw, including his faults — though not 
as faults {even if so they seemed), but as facts; nor indeed even 
to '^endear" him, but to communicate him, to offer him to 
anyone who reads this just as he was, in his tremendous effort 
to realise in himself that which he believed God wanted him 
to be. And to speak for one moment grandiloquently, I have 
had to try to treat this " Life " as a psychological study, or not 
at all. As mere annals, a list of things done, or as a mere 
study of a litterateur s output, it was inconceivable. 

And it is my private consolation that you have read, for 
yourself, every word of this book, and that you have approved. 
It was his practice to read his manuscripts to you ; I could 
not do better than to imitate him at least thus far. 

To be able to love and venerate one's fellow-man is perhaps 
the highest human privilege; to live ivith the beloved and 
honoured is an added grace. To you I owe, then, this great 
thing, that I have spent at least this year, despite its constant 
distractions, in close intimacy with your son, whom, as the 
manner of this life is, I saw so little. My affection for him 
was established before I began to write; now it is increased, 
and the more solidly made firm. To his mother I do not 
shrink from making that avowal. You were {of course) certain 
that it would be so. Yet you will not despise my assurance 
that you were wholly right. 

Very sincerely yours, 



fanuary igi6. 


When, at the very kind request of Mr. A. C. Benson, 
I undertook to write his brother's life, I did so with 
the most sincere diffidence ; partly because I doubted 
whether a "life" were the proper way of doing homage 
to the memory of a man like Robert Hugh Benson, who 
never did anything externally massive or officially im- 
portant, nor ever held any notable public position, as his 
father did, and whose influence, as far as I could judge, 
flowed chiefly from his vivid but elusive personality and 
magnetism. Memoirs, I felt, like or unlike those which 
have appeared, or rapid pen portraits by his intimate 
friends, were more suited to convey his varied and fleeting 
moods than was a volume. 

Further, my acquaintance with Mgr. Benson was re- 
latively slight ; of late years his communications had been 
reduced to the minimum necessary for intelligibility — thus, 
he would forward to me letters he had received, with brief 
legends, in his angular hand, black across the writing : 
Can you help this man ? — he seems honest; or. Are there any 
books on this ? or, Is this nonsense ? Can you send me a 
note? So sorry! The topics he inquired about were 
mainly theosophical and the like, or dealt with quaint by- 
paths of religion. 

Again, it seemed to me that any book on Mgr. Benson 
which failed to insist primarily on his utterly personal 
and interior moods, motives, and attitudes would wholly 


miss the point on every more important occasion calling 
for interpretation, and there is a very natural and justified 
repugnance in many readers (not to mention the writer) 
for curious inquisition into the sanctities of a man's soul, 
be he never so " public " in his career. 

Then, the only rebuff I encountered when, having 
undertaken the writing of this biography, I tried to collect 
material, came from one who commented on " this general 
conspiracy to present [Mr. R. H. Benson] as a miracle 
of genius and of virtue." It was presumed that I would 
continue this "elaborate hymn of unmeasured eulogy." 
The writer, being "an enemy to wax-busts with pink 
cheeks and china blue eyes," declined all assistance. I 
was thus reminded that a hymn of hero-worship was un- 
doubtedly being asked for by many of Mgr. Benson's 
admirers, and I was conscious that I could not supply 
even one stanza of what in any case he would so whole- 
heartedly have hated. Yet, on the other hand, I observe 
that a man of undoubted education is seriously maintaining 
that the Jesuits hated Benson and hastened his death 
by poison. This notion, entertaining in itself, though 
emanating, one would think, from another age, or race, or 
planet, none the less suggested that eccentric motives 
might be imputed for any less laudatory paragraph I might 
feel it my duty to write. 

Yet, for the sake of the warm affection and admiration 
I have felt for Hugh Benson, the privilege of speaking of 
him appeared too great to be refused, nor was it indeed 
easy to disregard the offer of Mr. A. C. Benson, to which 
the sanction of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster 
had been so cordially added. 

It has therefore been my effort, after this so egotistic 
introduction, to exclude my personal judgments, prefer- 


ences, and surmises from these pages, and by making an 
almost pedantic use of the great quantity of ''documents " 
I have been able to use, to state nothing which is not 
fully supported by the evidence. In writing the history 
of a mind, not just of actions or events, this has not 
always been quite easy. Yet, striving to work inwards 
from outside, I have not hesitated to accumulate a number 
of small details, quite trivial and exterior in themselves, 
convinced that in the superficial phenomenon was to be 
detected an expression of, or key to, the real man. Nothing 
has been asked for out of mere curiosity, nor related from 
sheer love of gossip. And indeed, to those who at any rate 
knew and loved him, even these trivialities may be dear ; 
while to others, again, the echoes of his voice — speaking 
things not necessarily important, even, or original — may 
bring some portion of the help and consolation it brought, 
already long ago. What I have said, I have checked 
constantly by submitting it to the opinion of all (I think) 
of Monsignor Benson's close associates, and, whenever this 
has been possible, by sending it in proof to those who so 
kindly had supplied the data for it. 

It will be understood that I have believed that no true 
homage is paid to a life like Hugh Benson's, by treating it 
as if it had been one of achieved perfection from the 
outset ; that he never changed, never increased, was a 
Saint in his cradle, or grew, even, towards sanctity, without 
many a growing pain, much inequality of development, 
much momentary loss of interior equilibrium. A man's 
very faults are not so discreditable as the good use he may 
make of them is honourable ; and self-development always 
implies self-conquest. 

Finally, while I have most earnestly hoped not to 
wound the feelings of anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, 


of what avail is it to forget that he was, on the one side, 
a Catholic priest, passionately eager to spread Roman 
Catholicism and fiercely antagonistic to alien creeds, even 
when tenderly devoted to many who might hold them ; 
on the other, that he was unlike, and knew himself to 
be unlike, and wanted to be unlike, a type of Catholic 
priest which is by many held to be so general, so delibe- 
rately produced, as alone to be satisfactory? In all cases 
I have hoped to be purely objective : it has been my 
business not to preach, nor to edify, but to relate ; and 
even when the subject of the narration is a mood, an 
emotion, a spiritual phase, not adequately expressible 
in any written document, I have honestly hoped that I 
might not first put into him what I afterwards dis- 
cover in him, but that I might quite simply tell as much 
of the truth as I saw. May so much of apologia be par- 
doned me. 

I would first thank most sincerely the unselfish kind- 
ness of Mrs. Benson, without whose unique help anything 
written on her son must be relatively unavailing ; Mr. 
A. C. Benson, for the vivid illumination which not alone 
his memoir of Hugh, but his many letters and his con- 
versations have continuously shed upon dark places ; 
Mr. E. F. Benson, and Miss Tait. Particularly, too, I am 
grateful for the genial and communicative hospitality of the 
Mirfield Fathers, especially of FF. G. W. Hart and Frere, 
to whom also I am indebted for the original of the photo- 
graph of Mirfield, facing p. 234. 

To these I would add the names of Adeline Duchess 
of Bedford ; Mrs. Warre Cornish ; His Grace the Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury; Fr. H. M. M. Evans, of St. Joseph's, 
Brighton ; Prior MacNabb, O.P. ; Mgr. A. S. Barnes of 
Llandaff House ; Viscount Halifax, in whose affection 


Hugh Benson found so constant a support; and very 
many others whose correspondence or hospitality has 
been of so much help to me, especially as regards the 
earlier part of his life. 

The Abbot of Caldey, the Rev. A. Morgan, the Rev. J. 
MacMahon, of New York ; the Rev. R. Watt, Mrs. F. Ker- 
shaw, Miss E. K. Martin, Miss M. Armstrong, Miss Kyle, 
Miss Lyall, Mr. Richard Howden, Mr. G. J. Pippet,i Mr. 
B. Merefield, Mr. E. W. Hornung, and the many friends 
whose memories are fastened about Hare Street and his 
later years, have also been of the most patient and generous 
kindness. Especially I wish to thank the many who have 
trusted me with his letters, or written to me of the spiritual 
direction he gave them. Often their names will appear 
here but rarely, or not at all ; perhaps because they have 
explicitly wished to remain anonymous, or because their 
contributions, which they may recognise, appear in a 
continuous context, not actually quoted ; or simply because 
I felt, in many cases, that names were best omitted. 
Perhaps the most valuable help of any has come from 

Certainly to no one of them can these pages appear 
anything but jejune and even false, at times. They will 
remember how hard a task it is to compress into any book 
everything they can know of so many-sided and many- 
mooded a man as was Hugh Benson : that much should 
not be said in any book ; and that something there is of 
incommunicable which they each of them have received, 
and neither wish to nor can hand over to the eyes and 
criticism of another. Should any of these, then, feel that 

* The two drawings of Hare Street Chapel arc by Mr. Pippct ; also the 
vignette of the Vernacle, or Volto Santo, upon the title-page. Its robust pathos 
and almost harsh simplicity are thoroughly in tone with the emotional preferences 
of Hugh Benson. 


this presentment of Hugh, which has striven to be first 
objective and then interpretative, has suffered the perhaps 
uncapturable spirit to elude it, so that it becomes a parody 
rather than a portrait, I trust they will forgive me. In 
any case, they will accept my repeated thanks for their 
generosity and confidence. 

C. C. M. 















VII. MIRFIELD, 1898-1903— I 

.. n . . . 





I 903- I 908 

I. IN ROME— I 271 

„ n .308 




ROBERT HUGH BENSON .... Frontispiece 

From a photograph in the possession of Bernard Merefield, Esq. 

TREMANS To face page 124 




NOVEMBER 18, 1871— SEPTEMBER 11, 1903 

Nondutn amabam, et amare amabam, quaerebam quid amarem, 

amans amare. 

St. Augustine, Confessions. 


CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 

The river, on from mill to mill, 

Flows past our childhood's garden still 

Below the yew — it still is there — 

Our phantom voices haunt the air 

As we were still at play, 

And I can hear them call and say : 

" How far is it to Babylon ? " 

Ah, far enough, my dear, 

Far, far enough from here — 

Yet you have farther gone. 

' R. L. Stevenson. 

Robert Hugh Benson was the son of a father "for 
whom " (his eldest son has written) " the day was never long 
enough," while " even at night he lived in fiery and fantastic 
dreams " : his mother belonged to that brilliant Sidgwick 
clan in which Sir Francis Galton found "the most re- 
markable case of kindred aptitude that had ever come 
under his notice." Moreover, the Archbishop and his wife 
had in Christopher Benson a common ancestor, and were 
in fact second cousins. Thus, through this marriage, 
qualities remarkable enough in themselves were reinforced 
or duplicated, and issued, in the children of such parents, 
into that confraternity of talent which is known.^ 

^ Or rather, not fully known perhaps to those who have not heard of the 
extraordinary and precocious intelligence and spirituality of Martin, the Arch- 
bishop's eldest son, who died while still at Winchester ; or who have not read 
the subtle and fascinating studies of Miss Margaret Benson, his second daughter. 
Dare I say that she has seen even farther into " the soul of a cat " than did 
the author of The Necromancers? 

. 3 


The Bensons descend from a sound stock of Yorkshire 
yeomanry into which a strain of inventiveness and shrewd 
business qualities had of recent generations been infused. 
The Sidgwicks were rich mill-owners of Skipton ; and 
Stonegappe, in the moors, and Skipton Castle, where they 
lived in the winter, gave Edward White Benson, who was 
born in 1829, visions of a social life wider than that which 
his own home afforded. Yet, strangely, that temperament 
of artist and aristocrat, which was to reveal itself as his, 
seems wholly uninherited. From the outset the boy was 
ardent, assimilative, and creative. He was given lesson- 
books ; but the multitude of other books distracted him ; he 
read them all and talked incessantly, being in restless need 
to expand and communicate himself. "Just let me read 
you this," he would exclaim ; " it is only a little bit of 
Southey. I shall get it off my mind and really be able to 
work then." Then followed his views on literature in 
general. At this time he was about ten years old. He led, 
too, a mystical life of his own, and had an oratory with 
cross and prie-dieu and decorative brass-rubbings. Here 
he recited the Canonical Hours, alone or with boy friends, 
and devised traps for audacious sisters who might invade 
his privacy. At eleven he went to King Edward's Grammar 
School at Birmingham, and prospered intellectually, and 
felt the first stirrings of ambition, and made romantic 
friendships diversified by explosive quarrels, though certain 
notable affections survived for life — for VVestcott and 
Lightfoot, for example ; and here too he met Edward I. 
Purbrick,^ a future Provincial of the Jesuits. At fourteen 

^ He visited Fr. Purbrick in 1872 at Stonyhurst. Each had prayed daily for 
the other, they discovered. Benson has left a sympathetic but inaccurate account 
of Fr. Purbrick's Mass, and dwells tenderly upon his friend's "wonderfully 
delicate, self-governed look" and his "quiet dignity of self-possession." Fr. 
Purbrick was indeed one of the world's few men who may be called imperial ; 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 5 

he is devouring the "Tracts for the Times," justifying 
himself by the thought that his father (who died in 1843) 
would have wished him to know " what was going on in 
the Church." Already indicated, by a judge of character, 
as "a born courtier," though too eager in manner, per- 
haps, to make that a really good description, he is none 
the less definitely touched by grace ; he loves liturgy and 
church architecture, and has for ideal " to be a Canon and 
recite the Daily Offices in my Cathedral ; " and he forms 
a small and secret " Society for Holy Living." Best of all, 
he is fired by his head-master, Mr. Prince Lee, afterwards 
Bishop of Manchester, with a passionate and personal 
devotion to our Lord.^ 

In 1848 he passes to Trinity College, Cambridge, where 
he practises rigid economy, eschews all recreation except 
bathing, forms gradually his always rather complex style, 
and allows his mind to pursue its favourite processes of 
curious observation and collection of detail. He founds 
a "Ghost Society," a forerunner of the " Psychical Society," 
and notes, sometimes at great length, those wild but most 

his width of view was vast, his mastery of detail miraculous, and neither quality 
injured the other. He retained to the end his fresh youthfulness of soul, and 
his inner life was profoundly spiritual. Fr. Purbrick later on visited his old 
friend, then Archbishop, at Lambeth Palace. 

^ He reverenced Lee profoundly ; and undoubtedly this saintly scholar did 
much to stimulate yet further Edward Benson's alert imagination in classical 
and ecclesiastical departments alike. His memory was vivid and compre- 
hensive, but (for his artistic temperament betrayed him) inaccurate, and his 
historical knowledge was constructive, but subject to abrupt collapses. It is 
interesting to find that as a boy he met Catholicism in the person of Newman, 
preaching in his Oratory. The boy is spell-bound by his " Angel eloquence " ; 
shudders at the " terrible lines " and " craft " seated on Newman's countenance — 
'* Oh, Lightfoot, never you turn Romanist if you are to have a face like that ! " — 
watches him singing the Litany of Loretto, and marks his relative apathy during 
the invocation of " most of the saints " (none of which exist is that Litany), and 
his impassioned fervour as he utters certain titles of our Lady, a number of which 
the young critic quotes, but no single one of them accurately, though proffering 
them as arguments against Madonna worship. 


coherent dreams which were always to illuminate his 
nights. During this time his mother and a favourite 
sister died, and much responsibility descended on his 
shoulders. He went, in 1852, as assistant master to 
Rugby, where the Sidgwicks were installed, among them 
being the child on whom his tenacious affections had 
already fastened. His relations with his pupils, though 
he refused a House, were intimate : with bathing, his 
exercise now is to ride, and he will transmit, in part, his 
keen love of horses, and wholly his passion for the water, 
to his youngest son. He travels, and is presented to Pio 
Nono. The mystery of St. Peter's, for a moment, holds 
him spellbound. The Pope passed by, towards the 
Tomb : round the dome above it thundered the " awful 
legend " Tu ES Petrus : " one felt for a moment as 
if they really must be the historical chain that bound 
the earth to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, as if this 
were the mountain of the Lord's House exalted on the 
top of the hills.'-' The impression passed. Elected Fellow 
of Trinity and ordained priest, he received from the 
Prince Consort, in 1858, the offer of the headmastership 
at the newly-created Wellington College. He accepted 
it, and entered upon his arduous task in 1859, having 
married Miss Mary Sidgwick the year before. She ac- 
companied him to Wellington, a "sedate matron of 
eighteen," and all his life remained a strength and re- 
freshment to her husband. 

At Wellington he first revealed that astounding power 
of organisation, which survives in the mind of many, 
who knew him best in his work, as his predominant 
characteristic. Physically he was cast in an impressive 
mould : largeness and power marked all his action. The 
representatives of the Iron Duke's family felt disgust when 

CHILDHOOD, 1 871-1882 7 

the moneys, subscribed in memoriam, which they had hoped 
to see spent upon "fine monuments" set up in "every 
considerable town " of England, were " lumped together " 
for the building of a "charity school for scrubby little 
orphans " ; Dr. Benson made it, single-handed, into one 
of the first Public Schools of England. His masterfulness 
first expressed itself in the tremendous discipline he ex- 
acted : awe, not love, was what he at first provoked. He 
had no idea as yet of his " extreme personal ascendancy," 
or of how his displeasure or gloom could depress his 
entire environment. His anger still was terrible ; his 
exactions at all times severe ; he was an exhausting travel- 
ling companion, so would he tear the heart out of all 
he saw — and he saw everything— and expect an attention 
and appreciation no less vigorous from his tired family. 
One result of this high tension at which he lived and 
kept others, was a recurrent melancholy better described 
as " black fierce misery," a mood bound to alternate with 
his enthusiasm. " We laughed," writes the late Dr. A. W. 
Verrall, in a memoir of characteristic subtlety and insight, 
" at his rosy ideals, and his astounding power of believing 
and asserting that they were on the point of realisation, 
nay, actually were and had been realised. . . . He could 
not, I believe, give an uncoloiired picture of any society 
in which he was vitally interested — that is to say, of any 
society whatever ! " This passionate interest in life, this 
enthusiasm with its alternating mood, this constructive 
and reconstructive imagination, with its necessary diver- 
gences from the accurate, he was to transmit almost 
undiluted to his son Hugh. So too his unique appreciation 
and management of the spectacular, and his ingenious 
love of an art so recondite in detail as to border upon 
mystification. Every minutest point in the decoration of 


Wellington College Chapel, in sculpture and glass, was 
planned by him and charged with '' conceits " and subtle- 
ties which all but defy deciphering. 

He planned the Master's Lodge, however, and its 
garden in 1865, at a moment when mid- Victorian 
scholastic architecture was uttering its loudest, if not its 
last, word in hideousness. We read of pitch-pine fittings 
and of light lilac washes ; and we see walls of patterned 
brick, and stone-faced Gothic windows, and lakes of 
gravel, and chill evergreens. 

Here Hugh was born on 18th November 1871, in the 
big room facing, on the one side, the south front of the 
College, on the other, looking over rolling heather, to 
Ambarrow with its ancient crowning firs.^ 

The christening took place at Sandhurst Parish 
Church. The baby was called Robert, a family name, 
and Hugh, having been born on the morrow of the feast 
of St. Hugh of Lincoln. During the ceremony he pro- 
tested loudly and shocked his brothers. But there is 
no history to be made public about babies. . . . Robin, 
as he was at first called, succeeded at least in showing 
that he was "then, and always, perfectly clear what 
his wishes were, and equally clear that they were worth 
attending to and carrying out." 

Dr. Benson was a prebendary of Lincoln, and his 
old friend Bishop Wordsworth made him Canon and 
Chancellor there in 1872. To Lincoln then the family 
migrated in that year. If, in the railway carriage, as he 
travelled down, the small boy insisted on spending the long 
journey at the window, " making remarks on everything," 

^ In fact, when in 1892 he revisited Wellington, they all but defied his own. 
^ Dr. Benson was devoted to this view. " Who am I," he often exclaimed, 
" that I should be able to look at that every morning ? " 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 9 

one may not too fantastically surmise that the exquisite 
Lincoln Chancery sank deep into the accessible sub- 
consciousness of this child. This was the house which 
remained his permanent ideal. Tudor red-brick, with 
oriel windows ; oak doors studded with the bullets of the 
Commonwealth; panelling; winding stairs in drawing- 
rooms, " with pentacles on the steps to ward off devils " ; a 
ghost unexorcised ; a schoolroom once the chapel. Soon 
the windows glowed with coat-armoured glass : in a tiny 
oratory Morning Prayer and a simplified Compline will be 
recited, and, on Wednesday and Friday, a Litany trans- 
lated from the Greek. An ancient garden spread between 
walls luscious with peach and apricot and ablaze with 
wallflower. Towers rose at its corners, part of the old 
town fortifications. In the grey city a vision of Castle 
and Cathedral floated, an eternal witness above "the 
streaming smoke of myriad chimneys." 

Within this romantic paradise, where so easily just 
clerical decorum might have reigned, the Chancellor 
found himself busier even than at Wellington. At once 
he organises and indeed creates. A Theological College 
is opened ; night schools for men and boys are started. 
The men pour roughly in ; in a moment, the Chancellor 
has them in hand, sorted and obedient. He explains the 
Bible to them, and thinks "with a workman's mind." His 
influence is paramount in Lincoln ; yet his thoughts 
range wide, to the colonies and the English Church as 
a whole, destined to be his master vision. Meanwhile 
he studies; he writes at Cyprian; undertakes the epistles 
to the Philippians and the Thessalonians for the Speaker's 
Commentary ; lectures on Alfred the Great, studying up 
the subject ab ovo ; he preaches his "residence " sermons, 
and is a "chief missioner " in a Lenten Mission, and to 


the Chancellor's School he lectures thrice a week. « Can 
/ really do any more ? " he asks ; and, though tempted, 
refuses the Hulsean professorship at Cambridge. He 
has been " perfectly happy in placing the Sweet Mother 
in her niche. . . . Beata Maria Lincolniensis is my 

He refused, too, the offer of the bishopric of Calcutta, 
foreseeing that he could not provide in India for the 
religious education of his six children, which he felt to 
be the foremost charge entrusted to him. "re/ci/a ^x^w 
Tnard is a Pauline note of a Bishop," he wrote ; and of 
him Canon Crowfoot said : " Nothing struck me so much 
as the intense reverence which, as a father, he felt for 
his children. He spoke sometimes with awe and tremb- 
ling, lest his own strong will and that stubborn temper, 
with which his own life was one perpetual struggle, 
should do some wrong to them." And the outlook 
appalled him. "Religious education," he wrote in 1876 
to Lightfoot, " is indeed a difficulty such as had no exist- 
ence when we were lads. It is plain enough to see the 
difference between worldliness and ambition, but un- 
belief now wears a chasuble — I mean a vestment on 
which the word 'religion' is joyously worn. And unbe- 
lievers pretend that no one is religious except non- 

At four or five, childhood's impressions can be ex- 
ceptionally keen, if only because they omit so much : 
in an artistic temperament they will be numerous and 
rich, and lay up a multi-coloured treasure of memories. 
I have no sort of doubt but that Lincoln, with its ancient 
gardens and Tudor halls and the Cathedral towers dim 
above the smoke, was responsible for many of Hugh's 
imaginative tendencies. All his life he was to live in 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 II 

a romantic environment, save quite at its beginning. 
Romance clings imperishably, I know, to every brick 
and stone of a big boys' school, but it must have fainted 
quickly upon the lilac walls and pitch pine of the Master's 
Lodge, and, anyhow, Hugh never got his really first im- 
pressions there. 

Few tales survive from Lincoln. Is it childish, in a 
biographer, to find these few significant, or at least, in 
a sense, symbolical ? 

An old colleague of Dr. Benson's from Wellington 
came to the Chancery and presented Hugh with a Bible. 
After lunch, Hugh, pathetic in black velvet and haloed 
with flaxen hair brushed until it shone, appeared at the 
drawing-room door, Bible in his arms. "Tha-a-ank you, 
Godpapa, for this beautiful Bible ! Will you read me some 
of it ? " he asked, qualifying, one might have thought, for 
membership in the " Fairchild Family." ^ " And what," 
Mr. Penny asked, " shall I read about ? " as Mrs. Benson, 
his companion in the drawing-room, retired awestruck. 
" The De-e-vil ! " said Hugh without the slightest hesita- 
tion. Mrs. Benson returned. 

He ''cherished a tender devotion," as they say, 
"towards his glorious patron, St. Hugh of Lincoln," and, 
with a child's appropriativeness, recognised him in the 
most casual ornaments which might represent old men. 
That the emblematic swan was absent troubled him not at 
all. He merely inquired "what his Goose was doing ? " ^ 

Finally, this extremely imaginative and nervous boy 

^ Does anyone now remember this book, which made the terror and edification 
of Victorian generations ? 

^ The Chancellor, who relates this, begins, "Hugh distinguished himself ai 
usual . . ." Evidently at these luncheon parties with old friends, to which 
all the children went, Hugh could be trusted for some quaintness of remark. 
We regret that no compilation of these earlier rneniorabilia was made. 


could never be induced to enter a dark room alone. 
"What," he was asked, "do you expect to happen to 
you ? " " To fall," he replied between a stammer and a 
shudder, " over a mangled corpse, squish ! into a pool 
of blood ! " 

Devils, saints, and horrors. Perhaps, in his life, these 
motifs, with others, will to the end not unequally be 

A photograph of Hugh at this period survives. The 
attitude — the slightly forward, slightly slanted, intense set 
of the head — the eyes and the mouth, seem to me ridicu- 
lously like those of the older Hugh. The nose, of course, 
is unformed, and the head rounder and the hair finer. 
Beside him is his old nurse Beth, unduly austere, I 
imagine, in her heavy Victorian dress and cap, and with 
the shadows of the mouth over-accentuated by the 
photograph. But her eyes are wonderful, and their 
serene loving beauty tempers the sheer strength of the 
nose and chin. 

The name of this beloved nurse will often recur in 
these pages. She belonged to the inmost of the family 
which she served from girlhood to extreme old age. She 
had been nursemaid to Mrs. Benson's mother, and nursed 
her brother, Mr. William Sidgwick, through an attack of 
smallpox, which she caught herself. She went with Mrs. 
Benson to Wellington, and Hugh was always her favourite 
child. He was not to prove ungrateful. 

In 1876 the arrangements for carving a new diocese 
out of the unwieldy territory of Exeter were completed, 
and in the winter a Bishop was required for Truro. The 
charge was offered to the Chancellor of Lincoln. ^ He 

* In his biography is quoted in full the characteristic and affectionate letter he 
wrote to Fr. Purbrick on this occasion. 

CHILDHOOD, 1 871-1882 13 

reluctantly accepted it, fearing the tradition that York- 
shiremen and Cornishmen could never fuse ; and in 1877 
left Lincoln with a heavy heart.^ 

For Palace, the new Bishop acquired the Vicarage 
of a large parish, Kenwyn. At once his forceful hands 
remodelled it, building two wings, converting stables into 
kitchens, and kitchens into a chapel, and adding a library. 
So, too, his ingenious fancy rechristened it Lis Escop, 
Cornish for Bishop's Court. In this world of grim 
and granite scenery and soft air where camellias and 
hydrangeas luxuriated, romance raised once more her 
insistent crest. The Bishop's fancy played delightedly 
through these villages of mysterious and ancient saints' 
names — la, Carantoc, and Uny ; and again, Halzephron, 
Lanteglos, Perranuthnoe, Perranzabuloe ; and revelled in 
these venerable traditions and incredible anecdotes, as 
of the vicar's sister who read the lessons in the church, 
in a deep bass voice ; of the nervous and fugitive curate, 
who had to be chained to the altar rails during service 
lest, at the responses, he should dart from the church — 
the churchwarden holding the padlock-key. The Bishop 
expanded and inhaled a new air of enthusiasm and " un- 
conventional holiness " — he gained, as they say, the 
" accent of holiness," and was recognised by the Cornish 
as a "converted man." But with this picturesque piety 
and curious research into antiquity and local lore went 
always the passion for construction — purely ecclesiastical 

' " Is this Truro? " Hugh exclaimed at the first station where the train stopped 
after Lincoln. But I gather he forthwith succumbed to that train sickness which 
for years was to harass him. Once his mother took him abroad. The crossing 
was painful : in the train he refused lunch, saying that the very mention of food 
made him feel sick. " Sit at the far end of the carriage and shut your eyes," 
his mother said, " while I eat mine : " no ; the very sound of crumpled paper 
made him feel ill : then, the bare idea that there was food in the carriage. . . . 
His mother had to disembark at the first stop and bolt her food on the platform. 


construction, it is emphasized, uninterrupted by social claims 
or politics. "The one lesson," he declared at the first 
Truro Diocesan Conference, " which sentiment teaches 
us is to be practical ; and the voice of the past is, ' Organise 
the present.' " He had especially to face the " rousing " 
of his people "into tranquillity." The Church was in- 
different ; the local religion passed from a drugged apathy 
into a frenzy of revivals followed by pathological reactions. 
The Bishop studied, sympathised, conquered hearts, 
developed a human influence nothing short of extra- 
ordinary. "Cornwall," he used to say, "was the only 
place where a conversation with any man, woman, or child 
whom you might meet, in the loneliest corners of the 
promontory, was always stimulating, never disappointing." 
He still paid for his hours of fire and exaltation by moods 
of black depression ; and the death of his eldest and most 
brilliant son, Martin, at Winchester, in 1878, utterly 
prostrated him. 

Meanwhile his children's education proceeded, and 
I shall be forgiven if I quote more pages than one from 
Mr. A. C. Benson's Hugh. I can add little to them, and 
their affectionate humour would be lost in condensation. 

"At Truro he becomes a much more definite figure 
in my recollections. He was a delicately made, light- 
haired, blue-eyed child, looking rather angelic in a 
velvet suit, and with small, neat feet, of which he was 
supposed to be unduly aware. He had at that time all 
sorts of odd tricks, winkings and twitchings ; and one 
very aggravating habit, in walking, of putting his feet 
together suddenly, stopping and looking down at them, 
while he muttered to himself the mystic formula, 
* Knuck, Nunks.' ^ But one thing about him was very 
distinct indeed, that he was entirely impervious to the 

^ When at Eton he had a habit of walking with a certain shuffle, for which he 
acutely disliked being criticised. 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 15 

public opinion of the nursery, and could neither be 
ridiculed nor cajoled out of continuing to do anything 
he chose to do. He did not care the least what was 
said, nor had he any morbid fears, as I certainly had as 
a child, of being disliked or mocked at. He went his 
own way, knew what he wanted to do, and did it. 

" My recollections of him are mainly of his extreme 
love of argument and the adroitness with which he con- 
ducted it. He did not intend to be put upon as the 
youngest, and it was supposed that if he was ever told 
to do anything, he always replied : ' Why shouldn't 
Fred ? ' He invented an ingenious device which he 
once, and once only, practised with success, of goading 
my brother Fred by petty shafts of domestic insult into 
pursuing him, bent on vengeance. Hugh had pre- 
pared some small pieces of folded paper with a view 
to this contingency, and as Fred gave chase, Hugh 
flung two of his papers on the ground, being sure that 
Fred would stop to examine them. The ruse was quite 
successful, and while Fred was opening the papers, 
Hugh sought sanctuary in the nursery. Sometimes my 
sisters were deputed to do a lesson with him. My elder 
sister Nelly had a motherly instinct, and enjoyed a 
small responsibility. She would explain a rule of 
arithmetic to Hugh. He would assume an expression 
of despair : ' I don't understand a word of it — you go 
so quick.' Then it would be explained again : ' Now 
do you understand ? ' 'Of course I understand that.' 
' Very well, do a sum.' The sum would begin : ' Oh 
don't push me — don't come so near — I don't like having 
my face blown on.' Presently my sister with angelic 
patience would show him a mistake. 'Oh, don't inter- 
fere — you make it all mixed up in my head.' Then he 
would be let alone for a little. Then he would put the 
slate down with an expression of despair and resigna- 
tion ; if my sister took no notice he would say : ' I 
thought Mamma told you to help me in my sums ? 
How can I understand without having it explained to 
me ? ' It was impossible to get the last word ; indeed he 
used to give my sister Maggie when she taught him what 
he called 'Temper tickets,' at the end of the lesson; 
and on one occasion, when he was to repeat a Sunday 
collect to her, he was at last reported to my mother, 
as being wholly intractable. This was deeply resented ; 


and after my sister had gone to bed, a small piece of 
paper was pushed in beneath her door, on which was 
written : * The most unhappiest Sunday I ever spent in 
my life. Whose fault ? ' 

"Again, when Maggie had found him extremely cross 
and tiresome one morning in the lessons she was 
taking, she discovered, when Hugh at last escaped, a 
piece of paper on the schoolroom table, on which he 
had written : 

"' Passionate Magey 

Toodle Ha ! Ha ! 

The old gose.' * 

"There was another story of how he was asked to 
write out a list of the things he wanted, with a view 
to a birthday that was coming. The list ended : 

" * A little compenshion goat, and 
A tiny-winy train, and 
A nice little pen.' 

" The diminutives were evidently intended to give 
the requirements a modest air. As for ' compenshion,' 
he had asked what some nursery animal was made of, 
a fracture having displayed a sort of tough fibrous 
plaster. He was told that it was made of ' a composi- 

" We used to play many rhyming games at that time ; 
and Hugh at the age of eight wrote a poem about a 
swarm of gnats dancing in the sun, which ended : 

" ' And when they see their comrades laid 
In thousands round the garden glade, 
They know they were not really made 
To live for evermore.' 

In one of these games, each player wrote a question 
which was to be answered by some other player in a 
poem ; Hugh, who had been talked to about the 
necessity of overcoming some besetting sin in Lent, 
wrote with perfect good faith as his question, 'What 
is your sin for Lent ? ' " 

^ Was this retaliation ? On an old sheet of paper I find the anxious query : 
" Am I a gose?" then more boldly, " If I am a gose I'm very silly, and then I 
shall not be like a lily . . ." ; finally in triumph, " I'm not a goose . . , which 
sets out in the rain which has a great pane when it is being killed." 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 17 

Besides these more orthodox diversions, it is satis- 
factory to know that the brothers and sisters, true to the 
immemorial instinct which tempts children, and simple 
persons generally, towards secrecy and intrigue, had 
formed a mysterious society with " titles, and offices, 
and ceremonies " : its Chapters were held in a summer 
house, and there were "robes and initiations and a book 
of procedure." Hugh was Servitor — a kind of acolyte, 
and subscriptions had to be paid, out of which wholly 
inadequate salaries were refunded. To the end Hugh 
delighted " to talk of the society," though, equally to the 
end, it remained unknown for what possible object the 
society had existed.^ 

But his boyhood was not spent in aloofness from his 
father. It is true that his mother for the most part taught 
him, or his elder sister ; but the Bishop used to take him 
for lessons half an hour a day ; a beginning was made of 
that pathetic effort to win the boy's full comradeship by 
" spudding expeditions," on which Hugh, armed with a 
little spud modelled on his father's, worked at the 
dandelions on the lawn. Another office, linking father 
and son together, became permanent, and was dear to 
the heart of both of them. When Archbishop Tait was 
to come to lay the foundation-stone of Truro Cathedral, 
Hugh, as acolyte, in purple cassock and cap and 
surplice, was to bear his train. The Archbishop could 
not come, so Hugh attended his father, and afterwards, 
with a special mallet and trowel made for him, laid a 

^ Neither then nor ever, his brother adds, was he embarrassed by incon- 
venient shyness. Personages were to mean little enough to him. The member 
for Truro, Sir James MacGarel Hogg, formal, dignified, and white-bearded, 
was lunching at Lis Escop, and escorted Hugh's mother to the dining-room. 
Secreted there beforehand, Hugh burst out upon the procession with a wild 
howl, creating consternation. 

I B 


stone in the rising walls. At his father's enthronement 
at Canterbury he performed the same duty. " I looked 
perfectly charming," he said of himself later, " in a little 
p-purple cassock and a little p-purple c-cap." ^ 

On Hugh's tenth birthday, November i8th, 1881, the 
private chapel at Lis Escop was opened. The Bishop 
wrote to his daughter Mary Eleanor: 

Truro, November iSiA, i88i. 

My dearest Love and Daughter,— I won't go to 
bed when you have seemed to be with us so much 
all day without telling you what a delightful opening 
of the chapel we have had on Hugh's birthday. 

He was so anxious to keep it in that manner that we 
postponed it; and the chapel, after all, would not have 
been ready if we had not. . . . 

Mama will send you a programme. First we prayed, 
yet asked for forgiveness and help in what we were 
about to do. Then I signed the licence, and Mr. Dickinson 
read it aloud. Then, it being by law allowed for the 
purpose, we had full choral Evening Prayer. After that 
we dedicated the Altar and all its appointments, Hugh 
bringing them one by one from the credence and look- 
ing so reverent and simple in his purple cassock and 
ephod like Samuel. And then I spoke to them all about 
the "Decency and order" of the Church of England. 
Then prayers for Hugh and for us all. 

This cultivated piety might make us nervous for the 
fate of its subject. Even his more directly educational 
experiences, even his recreations, would (until one knows 
Hugh's character, and indeed his father's, better) not 
tend to reassure us. The entire family will go for walks ; 
botanising proceeds ; Hugh returns asserting that when- 

^ This stimulated a taste. The Rev. W. H. G. Jones, to whom he made this 
avowal, found him one day in his undergraduate's rooms at Cambridge with a 
pile of Japanese garments on the floor. His visitor asked him if he had been 
performing to an audience. " No," he answered; "I have just been dressing 
up." And on a much more important occasion he wrote : " Monsignor ? the 
title isn't worth much ; but the clothes are gorgeous. Peacocks aren't in it." 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 19 

ever he goes out with the rest he is made to talk about 
nothing but poetry and civilisation. 

He could enjoy his walks, however. Cornish scenery 
is provocative in its varying beauty. His father writes 
in his diary of September 2nd, 1882, how he with his 
children climbed Roughtor in violent weather : 

Tintagel, mystical through rainy films — distant valleys 
palely discernible. 

And again on September 13th : 

One of the most delightful days of my life — by 
earliest train to Penzance, breakfasted there, drove to 
Logan Rock, to top of which all climbed. Then walked 
with them by Tol Pedn Penwith to Land's End. The 
beauty and glory of rock, sea, sky, and air, and the dear 
enjoyment of these earnest children — as joyous as they are 
good — Fred's splendid dash up and down the rocks after 
a Clouded Yellow which he secured, and Hugh's endless 
similes for every effect.^ The peaceful penetrating delight 
of Maggie, and Nellie's capital sketching. The climax 
came sitting on Land's End itself, eating pounds of great 
grapes. Home by the latest train. All most delightful, 
and yet 

Quite apart from the "ticketing" tendency this diary 
displays (each member of the party was expected to play 
up to his special character), which in Hugh was quite 
as strong as, and perhaps more precipitate than in his 
father, it appears to me to involve an element of very 
poignant pathos, and to reveal a divergence not alone 
in mode of emotional expression, but in temperamental 
construction which might well have foreshadowed a 
more profound cleavage of sympathy than was ever, in 
fact, destined to come about, between the Bishop and 
his children. Having said this, and in view of all I am 

^ His gift of unexpected simile remained unaltered. " May's feelings towards 
Val went in moods, like layers in a Neapolitan ice" is the sort of thing he 
constantly said, and at a moment's notice. 


about to suggest, I wish first to emphasize that whatever 
else may or may not be true, this at any rate is most 
utterly certain, that this father's love for his children was 
not only profound, but passionate, and that he singled out 
Hugh as the one on whom he was fain to lavish all that 
was most tender and most intimate in that love. " I 
always reckoned on this one," he was to write later, 
when Hugh decided in 1889 to go in for the Indian 
Civil Service, "to be my great friend as I grew old." 
That anything should be written or surmised which 
might obscure this primary fact of Bishop Benson's 
affection for his children, and perhaps for Hugh in 
particular, would be a grief to all who love or revere, on 
different titles, his memory, and to it, before all further 
considerations, homage must be rendered. Later, I hope 
to recur to, and insist upon this ever more tender and 
mellowed love. 

But it was an anxious love : Mr. A. C. Benson speaks 
of his father's "almost tremulous sense of parental re- 
sponsibility," Here was a man combining the rare 
qualities of power and of sensitiveness, of the autocrat, 
and the artist, the doer and the dreamer. Great politicians 
often achieve their triumphs by shutting off — even at the 
seeming expense of justice and truth — every aspect of a 
question except one, and then concentrating continuously 
the whole force of their personality upon the realisation 
of that which they so one-sidedly behold. A many-sided 
view often paralyses action. Now for force of personality 
Hugh's father was perhaps not easily outpassed. What- 
ever he did — and his hand found many things to do — he 
did it with his might. Largely built, as I have said, 
"leonine," as they call it, in mould of head and firm of 
tread, he carried himself throughout life finely, with 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 21 

fieyaXoTrpivreia, as Aristotle determines it, an undoubted 
aristocrat, utterly a prelate, though the gentleness of his 
dignity increased to the end. However, he could also, 
like an artist, focus and refocus perspectives with extra- 
ordinary rapidity and completeness. Accordingly, when 
the scenery of his attention altered abruptly from Europe, 
or England, or his diocese, to a vicarage or a schoolroom, 
and the same torrential flow of personal judgment, enter- 
prise, and handling kept on its way, its subjects came 
easily enough to feel themselves its victims. Moreover, 
he viewed all things, spontaneously, sud specie aeternitatis. 
At times, then, he behaved like Browning's Lazarus, who, 
having seen the glory to this side and to that of life's 
black thread, acted " across," and not " along," the thread. 
In trifles at times he would catch <' prodigious imports, 
whole results." Although, I confess, the sickening of his 
loved child to death " abated " terribly his cheerfulness, 
and caused him much "pretermission of the daily craft," 
yet it was true enough of him that "a word, a gesture, 
a glance from that same child 

" Will startle him to an agony of fear, 
Exasperation, just as like." 

He brooded ; he ordered the might of his remonstrance 
by his changing mood indeed, but also by his uneclipsed 
ideal ; he appealed to lofty motives to which onlookers 
could see quite well the children were at the moment, or 
perhaps always, incapable of responding. 

With regard to Hugh in particular this was un- 
fortunate. To him he had transmitted, generously, the 
artist's temperament and all the vividness of his 
personality. Hugh then too had a personality and was 
irrevocably an individualist. But where the Bishop 


advanced terrible as an army with banners, Hugh 
skirmished ; what the Bishop meant to do, he prepared 
elaborately and then did. Hugh, fired by an idea, rushed 
at the materialising it, quite without the previous mastery 
of the means to this.^ 

The Bishop was in all that he did relentlessly 
purposeful ; nothing in Lis Escop just " happened." He 
tended, as I said, to exhaust his family, who might be 
excused for wanting a little room just to " play about in," 
a prerogative which Mr. E. F. Benson so generously 
allows to his characters. Hugh Benson, even when at 
last he learnt to work, did so in fierce bursts of con- 
centrated energy which left him sometimes exhausted, 
but: often in a delightfully inconsequent humour, in which 
conversation bubbled out pell-mell, and the ideal, on the 
whole, was that you should for the moment pursue no 
ideal save, if you will, that of complete relaxation. His 
father never could relax. Even such dissipations which 
were officially organised were not always, as I suggested, 
of the most exhilarating. The Bishop expected that 
his children should enjoy themselves intelligently, and 
was worried by the flippant and volatile. He liked being 
asked sensible questions, to be suitably answered. Once 

^ A charming anecdote relates how, fascinated by the idea of conjuring, he 
at once offered to give an exhibition, but he had practised none of his tricks, and 
the result was a fiasco. Similarly he prepared a marionette show at Addington, 
where puppets dressed by Beth and his sisters were to enact scenes from history, 
as, for instance, from the life of Thomas k Becket. The curtain rose : Hugh's 
voice was heard declaring: "Scene, an a-arid waste," and next, in a loud, 
agitated whisper, " Where is the Archbishop?" But the puppet had been lost, 
and from this play of Becket the Archbishop had to be omitted. An invitation 
and a ticket to the Bonus Theatre, "owned by" R. H. Benson, still survives. 
Admission is free, children half-price. The play, by M. E. Benson, is The Ghost 
of Castle Garleigh. The villain is Don Jacopo, uncle of the maiden Andromache, 
who inherits Castle Garleigh. Her brothers are named Baldwin and Pedro ; 
Camilla is an old hag, accomplice of Jacopo ; the ghost is her father Ramon, 
supposed dead, but returning in the nick of time to prevent her murder. 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 23 

on a Sunday walk he had been explaining the Parable 
of the Good Samaritan to Hugh, and then seeing an old 
woman toiling uphill with a bag of potatoes, "Go," said 
he to Hugh, " and be a Good Samaritan to that old lady." 
"But, papa," answered Hugh, playing up like any 
Sandford, " I ought to hate her as the Samaritans hated 
the Jews." This gave the Bishop his chance of redeeming 
the character of the priesthood ; but his effort to help 
the old woman was anticipated by " a still more active 
Levite" in the person of the curate of Kenwyn, who 
had caught him up. . . . These Sunday walks are mentioned 
by Hugh Benson in his Confessions with no affectionate 
emphasis. They lasted an hour and a half, and were 
rather slow and "recollected." One of the children, 
or the Bishop, would read aloud, sometimes George 
Herbert, whose " peculiar, scholarly, and ingenious medita- 
tions " used, Hugh says, to produce in him " occasionally 
a sudden thrill of pleasure, but far more commonly a kind 
of despairing impatience." But he found satisfaction in 
the quaint devices such as wings or altars, in which 
Herbert printed his conceits.^ 

Lives of Saints, felt to be interminable ; volumes of 
Church History ; Dean Stanley on the Holy Land, were 
also read. St. Perpetua's martyrdom, indeed, captivated 
him, and he was awestruck and probably rather depressed 
to find that his father had been translating freely and 
at sight the certainly not too limpid Latin of her Acta. 
Children often feel resentful at the display of their parents' 

^ But George Herbert deserved belter than this. His poetry is amply 
capable of appealing to childhood ; and Hugh's taste for ingenuity ought, one 
would have thought, to have opened for him the gates to Herbert's more inward 
charm. Possibly the circumstances of his introduction to the poems spoilt (as 
happens in the case of so many authors read as, for instance, class work at school) 
his power of enjoying the poems themselves. 


accomplishments, not to mention their virtues. It is so 
often implied that if they try hard they will be as good, 
one day, themselves. . . . 

After the walk came the Greek Testament lesson or 
Bible-reading in the study. Hugh recalls the brilliancy 
and intellectuality of these functions, but in reality the 
children were, here again, not only rather bored, but 
distracted by the duty of seeking for their father's display 
of emphatic pleasure when they did well, and of avoiding 
his "oppressive disappointment" when they were stupid. 
Hugh had needed, he felt afterwards, a different machinery 
for the shaping of his spiritual life — a great use of pictures, 
a minute and constant ritual of fingered beads and crosses 
traced — still perhaps not realising the unique halo which 
can form itself around the written word of the Gospel 
if but the associated memories of its first reading be 
intimate and tender. But I must well confess that the 
Bishop, whose knowledge was exhaustive, had no notion 
how to "leave out." He had the scholar's horror of 
ragged edges, or of contents unexplained. The quaint 
wanderings of a word-stem through devious paths of 
meaning ; the subtle values of tenses and particles ; 
notions allied to the word but in no way to the context — 
who does not know the fascination which these have for 
certain minds, and indeed the curious delight and enrich- 
ment of view which may be found in yielding to the spell ? 
But this better suits men standing, shall we say, for 
scholarships at a University, than the impatient mind of 
a Hugh, superficial in the sense that it might have enjoyed 
the vivid pictures thrown off by a passage taken as a 
whole, but by no means inclined to burrow among roots. 
Another time he said he felt like a little china mug being 
filled from a waterfall. 

CHILDHOOD, 1 871-1882 25 

There are some rather hard pages in the Confessions 
in which Hugh seeks to describe the religious influence 
which his father exercised on his mind. It was so great, 
he asserts, that he despairs of describing it. He would 
have felt it a "kind of blasphemy," he says, to have held 
other opinions than his father's during his lifetime. I 
sincerely believe this to be a slightly inaccurate descrip- 
tion of his own boy-mind. Certainly, records show that 
long before the Archbishop's death, Hugh's mind was 
working quite independently, to an extent, indeed, which 
made the Archbishop nervous. Moreover, much that was 
supremely meaningful to the Bishop — the Presence of God 
and its character, the personality of Jesus Christ — was not 
apprehended at all, or quite differently, by Hugh. I think 
it is true to say that for Hugh to have stated^ even to 
himself, views differing from his father's, would have 
seemed "a kind of blasphemy." It is the hardest thing 
in the world to be quite sure of what one's real self does 
believe ; and to a child the expression of a belief is 
constantly taken for the vital fact itself. Sometimes one 
comes across in a child, at a moment of spiritual unveiling 
of which it may itself be quite unconscious, the most 
startling exhibitions of interior scepticism ; oftener still, 
of active self-delusion. Hugh relates a list of "puzzles" 
with which his father's beliefs supplied him — what really 
he thought about the binding character of the liturgy ; 
of divorce ; of the " Catholic Church," especially of the 
Sacrament of Penance. All these are, as conscious prob- 
lems, undoubtedly the products of a later age, and not 
to be reflected back to the simpler days of Truro. 

I think he speaks truly, though, when he says he felt 
towards God as towards a present parental authority, and 
that in it only the more austere elements of human 


parenthood were to be perceived. It takes long to realise 
that it is after the heavenly fatherhood that " all paternity 
on earth is named" in pale and partial imagery, and it 
may well be that even as a rule God is, by obedient 
children, so cast in their human father's image, that He 
is not only none too well loved, nor even perhaps " liked," 
but on the whole resented though obeyed. The Person, 
too, of Jesus Christ, is, though I fancy less by Catholics 
than by those who do not possess the tabernacled Presence, 
conceived, as Benson says, in the past or the future, as 
the figure whom the Gospels show, tender and miracle- 
working, a world away in time and place, the Galilean 
who yet is to " come again." Sunday evenings, Benson 
has hinted in The Light Invisible, were touched for him 
with that glamour which I imagine almost the least wise 
of Victorian homes (and the Bensons' was far from being 
one of these) knew how to cast about them. Hymns, and 
the bells of Evensong, and a certain patriarchal tender- 
ness, and a mysterious melancholy as of ending (for no 
one ever yet, I am sure, felt Sunday to be the first day 
of the week ; it is an interspace, at best ; clearly the 
new period starts on Monday morning), go to invest 
those hours with an unforgettable sentiment. Also Hugh 
recognised that a "strange aroma" cleaved about his 
memories of the careful liturgies performed in the tiny 
chapel of Lis Escop no less than in the stately oratories 
of Lambeth and of Addington. What I think is very 
characteristic indeed of Victorian and Anglican education, 
is a sort of Stoic equalisation of moral faults under the 
superior " formality " of " disobedience." It is recognised 
by parents, no doubt, that to climb over wire railings 
with one's feet elsewhere than close to the fixed supports, 
may damage indeed the wires, but is not morally wrong. 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 27 

But to do so after being told not to, exalts the offence 
into a sin comparable to those of sulks, temper, or mean- 
ness. Possibly the parent may not guess that so the 
child-conscience feels the thing ; but there is no sort of 
doubt that moral issues are thus quite often and quite 
gravely and for a long period confused, and a false con- 
science formed. Moral lapse, in the circumscribed sense, 
is reckoned inconceivable and as " not so much as to be 
mentioned among you " ; it is never, therefore, alluded 
to, and never (alas, how fatally !) prepared for. Certain 
sins are outstandingly abhorrent ; lying, thieving, and the 
improbable vice of cruelty. But it was difficult to see 
what expression of wrath would be found adequate for 
these when "to forget an order, or to disregard it in a 
moment of blinding excitement " (a characteristic condi- 
tion, by the way), to throw stones at gold-fish or to play 
with fingers during prayers provoked all the reprobation 
due to grave moral delinquencies.^ 

It remains that Hugh had plenty of personality for 

The most remarkable thing about him was a real 
independence of character, with an entire disregard of 
other people's opinion. What he liked, what he felt, 
what he decided, was the important thing to him, and 
so long as he could get his way, I do not ithink that he 
troubled his head about what other people might think 
or wish ; he did not want to earn good opinions, nor 
did he care for disapproval or approval ; people, in fact, 
were to him at that time just more or less favourable 

^ Benson says he was conscious of, and consoled himself by, this fact when 
once at Eton he was falsely accused of serious bullying and nearly flogged. " I 
was very nearly paralysed in mind," he says, " by the appalling atmosphere ot 
my father's indignation, and wholly failed to defend myself by tears of silent 
despair." Almost so confused as to doubt his own innocence, he felt that he 
had at any rate known the worst of possible anger before, and for trivial faults. — 
Confessions^ p. 1 5. 


channels for him to follow his own designs, more or less 
stubborn obstacles to his attaining his wishes. He was 
not at all a sensitive or shrinking child. He was quite 
capable of holding his own, full of spirit and fearless, 
though quiet enough, and not in the least interfering, 
except when his rights were menaced.^ 

To sum up this part of the boy's life, spent altogether 
at home and apart from all alien influences. He appears 
to me already in a sense lonely, not that he was aloof, 
uninterested, eremitical, but rather that he was too 
interested, too keenly alert to new impressions, too excited 
over life, to be able to take in deep feelings — he was the 
most unsentimental of children — or at any rate to be 
conscious of his deeper feelings. Mr. A. C. Benson re- 
marks more than once and with very great acuteness, in 
his father's Biography, that the Archbishop, to his reading 
of him, was not often conscious of the great happiness 
which in reality was his. He was too busy, too pre- 
occupied, too ready for the next thing. Something of 
this already shows in Hugh. He really was happy at 
Truro, though from the Confessions you would never guess 
it. But partly he really had not anything very deep, as 
yet, within him (and, after all, he was barely eleven !) and 
partly he did not know what he in fact possessed (and 
again, at eleven one should not be too interiorly aware !). 
But one may regret that he did not feel more consciously 
his father's love for him, or, feeling it, could not find more 
that appealed to him in its expression. Earnestly I wish 
to repeat that here is no radical and total schism of 
temperaments such as is described in that most terrible 
book, Father and Son. The tragedy was subtler, as Hegel 
saw Greek tragedy to be. On either side was so much 

1 Hugh, p. 37. 

CHILDHOOD, 1871-1882 29 

good ; on either, such a little that was faulty ! Yet, for 
that, the two wills scraped along, if I dare put it so, side 
by side, not merely separate, still less springing vehemently 
apart, but never quite fusing ; perhaps to the end a mis- 
understanding survived between two who should have 
been such friends. 

And in all this long period of formation, there is one 
influence which in these pages of the Confessions^ for 
whose seeming hardness we cannot but feel sorry, Hugh 
never mentions. Yet it was one which, his whole life 
through, kept revealing itself in its results. This was his 
mother's ; and already, whether he knew it or not, a force 
was dealing with him, as vivid and active as the Bishop's, 
though more tacit, less to be appraised or minutely traced 
in detail. Her presence was to him both comfort and 
consolation — it meant less loneliness and more strength, 
it established his individuality, and led him beyond the 
limits of a selfish self. " Love best is served by briefest 
speech." So, if I allude no more explicitly to this constant 
factor in Hugh's life, its existence should never for a 
moment be forgotten, nor yet Hugh's ever-increasing 
recognition of its existence. 

These two heredities and educations, then, formed 
Hugh's first years, and I have seemed to find Hugh hitherto 
in his father rather than to trace, later on, his father in 
Hugh. For whatever of fire and artistic versatility, of 
impatience with the data of mere sense, of constructive 
appetite reproduced itself in the son, the mould was 
indisputably broken ; the vastness of mental grasp, the 
massiveness of execution, were not handed down ; and if, 
as seems tolerably visible, the conspiring qualities of 
these two reunited clans reached to their most brilliant 
in the generation of which Hugh was the youngest, they 


were destined, perhaps, to end there, so that in him pre- 
cisely the prerogative of genius was most markedly allied, 
as so often, with a certain basic weakness ; rapidity, with 
a certain impermanence ; and delicacy of perception with 
a nervous system from the outset too high-strung. 


" I had made up my mind that it was not pleasant to be an Ishmael, that as 
far as possible I would try to be an ordinary boy at my new school. ..." "But 
don't be miserable" (he said) "just because you're different. I'm different; it's 
a jolly good thing to be different !" — Richard Middleton. 

In the May of 1882 Hugh left home for the first time, 
an4 since it was very soon after this that his father was 
elected to be Archbishop of Canterbury, by Hugh's home 
will be meant, henceforward, Lambeth Palace and Adding- 
ton Park near Croydon. The red-brick or white-stone 
turrets of Lambeth are familiar from the outside to those 
few Londoners who care to notice anything on the Surrey 
side of the Thames. It was never felt by the Archbishop's 
family really to be their home, and appears but seldom, 
even as background, in Hugh's novels. Addington was 
different, though now it has been sold, and the Arch- 
bishops no more live there. Its park is as beautiful as the 
house itself was unromantic, having that sober stateliness 
in which our nearer ancestors loved to encase rooms of 
extreme and substantial comfort. This place, with the 
riding which its park made continuously possible, often 
finds its way into Hugh's books ; ^ above all, the stateliness 
of life in these houses, the cumbrous transportations of 
the family from one to another, the heterogeneous but 

^ The Archbishop rode slowly, and the horses became rather out of hand. 
By the boys, to be his companion in this was felt to be, perhaps, a penance, 
and shirked. One horse, in particular, Quentin, threw nearly everyone, Hugh 
included, and reappears in his own name, in a significant episode of The Coward. 



always important gatherings which they inevitably col- 
lected, filled his memory with innumerable details for his 
imagination to work upon and his caustic wit to play 

About his preparatory school at Walton House, Cleve- 
don, in Somerset, he has very little to say. In his Con- 
fessions he mentions, of course, only his recollections of 
what had touched his religious sense, and these are 
connected merely with the moderately high ritual in vogue 
there, with a dark sanctuary, fenced off by iron and brass 
screen-work, with coloured stoles and depressing Gregorian 
chants. As a matter of fact, be the Sanctuary but dark 
enough and the screen tolerably glittering, the average 
small boy will remain complacently ignorant of what 
goes on inside the one and behind the other. He is 
content to sing the hymns he likes, to scratch his initials 
on the bench or to lick its varnish. Such religious emo- 
tions as reach him have to associate themselves somehow 
with the notion of home ; they will be entirely unawakened 
at both early and mid-morning services, for in that bleak 
or brisk or rain-sodden atmosphere nothing of psychic 
stirs. Breakfast, anyhow, extinguishes such flickers of 
the soul as may respond to the thrilling light of dawn. 
But in the evening, the chapel is warm and dusky; the 
stained-glass light is solemn, and points of gas-flame 
make a glamour where brass or polished stone reflect 
them ; favourite hymns, and the august and familiar 
phrasing of the Bible, relax interior resistance ; the 
sermon, even, may disengage some sentiment. Vague 
resolutions form ; promises are distantly recalled. After- 
wards, the study of Greek Testament, supper, and the 
dismal prospect of Monday repress once more these 
spiritual stirrings. 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 33 

Mr. A. Bevil Browne, who was a new boy at Walton 
House with Benson, recalls distinctly Hugh's pale face 
and longish hair and unusually thoughtful face.i 

Certainly his dramatic imagination was already active. 
The boys used to be encouraged to learn Latin grammar 
at meal-times, and it is consoling to hear that this 
dyspeptic proceeding was alleviated by the stories into 
which Hugh used to fit the nouns occurring in the 
rhymes by means of which the boys learnt Latin genders. 
He was too brilliant; the laughter became uproarious, 
and the table was " silenced." Marionette plays became 
popular, though I do not find that it was Hugh who 
invented them. He and Lord Beauchamp dramatised 
Scott's Abbot, in which the escape from Lochleven had 
fired Hugh's imagination. Mr. Browne protested that 
the sentence, "One, two, three, four chairs, including 
the broken one," had not been rendered into verse. 
Hugh displayed the obstinacy suited to a poet who is 
sure of, but cannot justify, his intuitions. He just said 
that he had left it as it was in the book, and would not 
budge. So, to a protest that "the sky," which he was 
painting for the night-escape scenery, "isn't blue like 
that at night," he merely replied, " Oh, isn't it ? " and 

Mr. Bevil Browne remembers him as not altogether 
happy in his environment, though he had the power of 
escaping from it by the doors his imagination opened, 
and he never showed " impatience of routine." As a 
matter of fact, his inventiveness was concrete : he started 

^ In the photograph of the three brothers published in Hugh it is seen that 
the long hair was no speciality of the youngest. Hugh wears the somewhat 
stunned expression proper to photographs, and is dressed in an Eton suit, not 
the "black suit with knickerbockers gathered at the knee, then as unusual as 
they are now universal," as Mr. Bevil Browne describes them. 

I C 


fashions or feverishly adopted those existing and developed 
them. He liked teaching others to do what he could 
do — walking on stilts, for instance ; was a bowler, and 
nearly in the eleven, and coached his dormitory for 
matches which he arranged. ^ Boy-like, he knew no 
half-tones : people were " beasts " or heroes. The 
reverential faculty showed no further sign of develop- 
ment. At Addington, in the holidays, Hugh once sat 
with his friend in a cedar and told stories and looked 
stealthily down on the heads of a dozen gathered Bishops 
and invented a nickname for each. 

Mr. A. C. Benson would, I imagine, consider the 
colours of this picture too gay, if not idealised quite by 
reminiscence. " Hugh often spoke of Clevedon," he 
writes to me, " and always in a depressed sort of way." 
The town itself was — then, at any rate — sordid, modern, 
and straggling ; Wales rose " shadowy across the mud- 
stained tide." Hugh disliked the view, and failed really 
to fit in with the life of a private school, a place where, 
more than in any other, the individualist is bound to 
pay. If, indeed, Hugh's memories of Clevedon were 
substantially unpleasant, I expect that he really was none 
too happy there. At the time, he may quite well not 
have known this. A small boy has an extraordinary 
power of not knowing whether he is liking his life as 
a whole or not. He can pass, at a hint, from gloom 
to excited pleasure ; it takes long before a summing up 
is possible, and by that time developing personality has 
grievously altered the lenses of the mind. But, on the 
whole, while the memory tends to omit the unpleasant 

^ He is said to have invented a "tutorial system for his class, in which the 
top boys were to help the backward." But assuredly the practice of exacting 
toll from the superior expert is old enough, and did not require inventing 
by Hugh. 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 35 

and to decorate the past with aureoles, Clevedon 
apparently never in his eyes wore a halo. In 1885 
he won a scholarship at Eton and went there in Sep- 

A boy's life at a Public School finds many more to 
speak of it than his earlier days at some Temple Grove 
or Elstree ; perhaps, because the mind of a small boy is 
so hidden a thing and so hugely remote from middle- 
aged novelists, so inarticulate, and so devoid of the 
significant moods of adolescence that it is left alone. 
And yet Mr. Kenneth Grahame has briefly but sufficiently 
reminded the readers of The Golden Age that it is during 
the first term spent at a private school that the real gulf 
is cleft between the home-bred child and the boy. A 
few brave writers have invaded that twilit consciousness — 
Mr. Richard Middleton, for instance, in one or two subtle 
studies in The Ghost ShiPy^ but unsurpassably, of course, 
Mr. Compton Mackenzie in the first volume of Sinister 
Street. But there would be no materials, as has been 
seen, even for such architects as these, to construct a 
history of Hugh's mind during that fascinating period. 
Eton, no doubt, has fired fewer to write of her than has 
her more sentimental sister, Harrow ; probably it is part 
of the unconscious ideal of the serene College to feel no 
need to speak about herself. Yet, it is not Eton, but 
still Hugh Benson himself who here defeats us. Eton 
never seems to have inspired him much. He never, for 
instance, uses his school as the setting of a novel, 
" historical " or modern. For a late Reformation story, 
the red-brick College and Henry's grey chapel, the old 
town, and the castle would have made an incomparable 
scene ; and the man who could write so lightly and 

^ Thus, in A Drama of Youth and The New Boy. 


suggestively, quite en passant, about a boy still at Eton, 
as Benson has in The Coward, could have written delicious 
things as a study of more youthful " Conventionalists " in 
that life of river and cricket-field and schoolroom and, 
above all, of House etiquette and hierarchy. He loved 
to diagnose the moods of boyhood and the gusty temper 
of adolescence. The solemnity of youth, masking its 
timidity ; the charm — almost the sacredness — of cruelly- 
named *< calf-loves ; " the elusive religion and the rigid 
code of public opinion, were favourite topics for his 
thought. Yet of the life of Eton he says scarcely any- 
thing — a few hard pages in the Confessions, and three 
contemptuous articles in Everyman^ — and of the place 
itself, never a word. When, in 1906, Mrs. Warre Cornish, 
the wife of the Vice-Provost of Eton, implored him to 
take Tudor Eton for a theme, he could not rouse himself 
to the slightest response. I frankly believe him to have 
lived in Eton, on the whole, impervious to the spirit of 
the place, and if this is so, no possible proof could be 
more cogent of the triple oak and bronze which his per- 
sonality opposed to all that did not suit it. The same 
friend reminds me how all his life you might perceive 
in him a genuine temperamental detachment from one 
part of the impressive, court-like existence of Lambeth and 
even Addington, where the atmosphere was heavy with 
ecclesiastical and even secular politics, and, indeed, a 
certain sense of sovereignty ; and similarly from Eton, where 
a code not in the least his own in so many points imposed 
itself upon him, he lived half out of sympathy. However, 
Mr. Matthew Hill, a contemporary of Hugh at Eton, in 

^ These articles created grave annoyance, and elicited protests by no means 
wholly playful when his name necessarily came up for invitation to the annual 
dinner of Catholic Old Etonians. 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 37 

order to correct any impression of deliberate aloofness 
on Hugh's part, has written : 

When we were boys together he was by no means 
regardless or unheeding of public opinion. On the 
contrary, he was exceptionally anxious not to offend the 
conventional standards, or at any rate not to be found 
out doing so. He was always careful to know the right 
people and do the right thing. His individuality of 
character had not in those days asserted itself. Although 
much is vague in my own mind as to what happened 
nearly thirty years ago, these impressions stand out 
clearly enough, and I am convinced of the truth of the 

Another clear recollection [Mr. Hill proceeds], is the 
delight we used to take in a sort of game wherein we 
pretended to be monks. I can clearly see him now coming 
into my stall clad in a dressing-gown with some sort of 
cowl to it and gliding out again, and myself doing the 
same kind of thing, though I feel sure we should not 
have liked to have been discovered by our confreres at 
such childish proceedings ! I also seem to remember 
that he wrote out some kind of story based on our 
monkish performances, but I may be wrong about this. 
Another kind of scene we used to enact was the offering 
of human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli. He and I were 

the officiating priests, while the victim was usually D , 

but I am quite sure that no pain of any kind was inflicted. 
I ought perhaps to add that it was I, and not Hugh, who 
was the originator of these games. Though we all ragged 
one another, Hugh never bullied anyone. He would 
always cry " bad luck " if the fun went too far ! 

He was always quick to note personal eccentricities 

and delight in them. Charlie C , one of the servants. 

Miss H , and H D , to mention a few, were a 

continual joy to him. He was always ready to joke about 
people who amused him ; and until his last year, when I 
saw less of him, I can hardly picture him except as smiling 
or laughing. . . . Not that Hugh was devoid of his own 
small mannerisms. I well remember the little shuffle 
he used suddenly to make while walking, and the real 
annoyance he showed when we imitated him or ragged 
him about it. He delighted, as did I, in " gas rags." This 


consisted in turning on a row of gas jets in Chamber. 
One side, armed with towels, had to prevent the other 
from setting Hght to the gas by means of torches con- 
sisting of roUed-up newspapers lit at Chamber fire ! The 
smell and mess at the end of the "rag" were indescribable, 
but the joy of the combat immense ! 

There are few relics of him at Eton. You may visit, 
of course, Long Chamber in which as Colleger he at 
first slept, and speculate how he will have decorated his 
dark wood cubicle.^ But even at Cambridge the walls of 
his room offered no hint of the future development of 
his artistic power of choice. You can see the Upper 
School where he will have worked, or idled, and observe 
his name carved (later on, and not, of course, by his own 
hand) on "Gladstone's door" to the left of Dr. Keate's 
desk. That is about all. Even his brother, Mr. A. C. 
Benson, who was living at Eton at this time with Mr. 
Edward Lyttelton as a master, in " a quaint, white-gabled 
house called Baldwin's Shore " overlooking Barnes Pool, 
saw little enough of him, though, as Mr. Lyttelton's 
private pupil, Hugh came in and out of the house quite 
frequently. For several of Hugh's set were Mr. Benson's 
own pupils, and for Hugh to have been intimate with 
their tutor might, it was felt, create awkwardness on both 
sides. In any case, the aloofness in which most Public 
School boys live from their masters is something quite 
astonishing to those accustomed to the far more homely 
and accessible staff of most Catholic colleges. 

Mr. A. C. Benson can supplement by a few lines 
the almost total silence observed by Hugh concerning 
his Eton friends. Since, indeed, he laments more than 

^ He wrote once to his mother : " I have bought some stuff you stick on 
windows, producing the most lovely stained glass, and have put some up in my 
room." That is the only hint. 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1 882-1889 39 

once that his Cambridge friends drop entirely out of 
his life, I imagine that his school friendships did not 
prove more permanent. They were, I daresay, formed 
more on a basis of qualities which interested Hugh at 
the moment, or harmonised with his inquisitive and 
restless spirit, than on any deep foundation of affection 
or tried fidelity. Mr. Benson writes : 

The set of boys in which he lived was a curious 
one ; they were fairly clever, but they must have been, 
I gathered afterwards, quite extraordinarily critical and 
quarrelsome. There was one boy in particular, a caustic, 
spiteful, and extremely mischief-making creature, who 
turned the set into a series of cliques and parties. Hugh 
used to say afterwards that he had never known anyone 
in his life with such an eye for other people's weak- 
nesses, or with such a talent for putting them in the 
most disagreeable light.^ 

It was to this set that the small boy belonged whom 
Hugh was falsely accused of bullying. Not, indeed, that 
Hugh was incapable of resenting what displeased him 
or of imposing his views upon his neighbours. 

The Rev. Dr. Lyttelton, now Headmaster of Eton, 
has written : 

A ludicrously-worded letter from him to his mother 
had reference to a serious difference of opinion between 
himself and two or three comrades on the one side, and 
an unfortunate but objectionable neighbour. 

The letter described a combined attack they were 
meditating, which, if I remember right, threatened to take 
the form of wrapping a towel round the offender's neck, 
and pulling the ends as hard as they could until some- 
thing happened ! I cannot be sure that the project was 
ever carried out. This must have been in 1889. 

His letter was excellent reading, the tone being quite 
as grave as the solemnity of the occasion demanded. 

^ Hugh, p. 41. 


And his temper still revealed itself, as it was always 
to remain, frequently hot to boiling-point. 

He spread his athletic interests more widely than 
did most of his fellows, but, perhaps, more thin. He 
steered one of the boats on the Fourth of June, and a 
photograph still survives of him in his white trousers 
and middy's braided coat, with a dirk and enormous 
Victorian bouquet. The mouth is already firmer, though 
I do not think this can be the " new photo " at which, 
Mrs. Benson wrote on February 7, 1888, " I so often 
look, and think how it looks older and purposeful." Be- 
coming a cox was a delight to him, and he displayed 
the invitation to do so with pride. But besides the 
rowing, he played cricket, though perhaps not keenly. 
It was not a taste that actively survived. 

"Your cricket successes," his mother writes on May 25, 
1887, " were grand ! Think of dry-bobbing to that extent 
while you are a wet bob I Well ! well ! — Genius is a great 
thing, and it is well known that boys inherit from their 

A little later it was from a precocious ambition to be 
of practical use in crises that he suffered. His mother 
wrote again from Addington Park on October 19, 1887 : 

Dearest Laddie, — You and your Ambulances ! It 
will be a great assistance in the holidays (to) have so ex- 
perienced a surgeon at hand in case of accidents. I hope 
we shall always wound ourselves, or break our bones, in 
exact correspondence with what you have learnt — and, 
having such strong family feeling, I have no doubt we 

(I have only one fear connected with it — do give it 
weight, Hugh. I am always anxious when I hear of your 
taking up new things, for fear your work should suffer. 
I don't mean only the actual preparation of given lessons, 
but the reading that bears on it which you ought to be 
doing at your present age — do think of this.) 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 41 

The only form of sport which was to remain a passion, 
and now first reveals itself, was fishing. 

{From Mrs. Benson.) 

Lambeth Palacb, S.E., 
June 22, 1888. 

most faithless of mortals (me this time) not to have 
written on Tuesday. . . . About the rods. I have thought 
it well over, and feel that I should like to give you one, 
and a good one. So I should like you to get the middle 
one of the three you spoke of. The price I can't quite 
remember. You see, my darling, I want you to do well 
whatever you do — and I am trusting you not to let it 
interfere with your work. That is such a great and im- 
portant thing that I should feel very reproachful if I 
found you had fished when you ought to have been 
working. But you are old enough not to fall into this 
snare, and I must trust to this — and fishing, I want you 
to fish well — and keep your rod in order, and not break 
it or lose any, or spoil it in any way. So with every good 
wish for your birthday I send it — antedating it by five 

At Eton, a scholar at any rate was expected to do 
some work. Hugh's was "so poor," his brother says, 
"that it became a matter for surprise among his com- 
panions that he had ever won a scholarship." But Dr. 
Lyttelton declares, more favourably : 

... I remember almost nothing. Hugh at the age of 
fourteen was a curious mixture of liveliness and dreami- 
ness. His work was rather dishevelled in form but shewed 
considerable promise. 

1 should have put him among the second flight of 
Collegers, and not quite up to the standard of the very 

He got into no scrapes, and seemed very happy. 

At his home, however, more anxiety was felt. His 
father, now Archbishop, displayed the utmost concern, 
and perceived his ambitions, that Hugh should turn out 


a " scholar " in the older and more academic sense, in 
danger of never being realised. I quote from a series of 
letters : 

Lambeth Palace, S.E., 
May 7, 1887. 

. . . You must take great pains to be accurate. This is 
your snare now — and accurate only means that " you give 
yourself carefully to a thing." It's not a gift like white 
hair or a Roman nose. 

The Queen's Jubilee week intervenes, and provides one 

long distraction : 

Lambeth Palace, S.E., 
June 25, 1887. 

You will, like all of us, have had a week of regular 
irregularity — everything that is usual broken in upon — 
and I am sure you will never forget the Queen's Jubilee as 
long as you live — may that be long . . . And now, dear 
laddie, with all those wonderful pictures before your eyes, 
and all those memories stored up, do ask God to make 
nothing be in vain — and ask Him to make your work 
steadier, and more careful and good every day. It is such 
a pleasure, and happy thought for the future, when you 
do well. 

Addington Park, Croydon, 
September 27, 1887. 

. . . And there is one thing which you want the habit 
of — but which your powers of resolution are quite equal to 
— viz, to do the work in the first party and not in the last part 
of the time allowed for it. You are capital in resolving to 
get out of bed, and doing it — only be just as resolute about 
the right moment for beginning work— and you would do 
excellently. . . . God bless you. Don't forget Dr. Arnold's 

Addington Park, Croydon, 
October 8, 1887. 

I am glad you liked the box of instruments. They are 
very good ones. And I had a box given me by my uncle 
about your age, which perpetually serve me and comfort 
me. So I thought you would like a set for your birthday 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 43 

The unstudious boy is given a tutor for the summer 
hoHdays, and on November 13, 1887, his father again 
writes : 

Nffvember 13, 1887. 

. . . No doubt the holiday tutoring was very useful. . . . 
Mr. Mitchell says you are '^ improving^' but that "there is 
still room for Improvement^' — if there is room for " Im- 
provement," pray ask him (Mr. Improvement) into it, and 
get him to sit down. Be hospitable to him.^ 

That the situation was felt, at Lambeth, as acute, is 

clear from a letter written by his mother at about this 

same time. 

Addington Park, Croydon, 
October zt^, 1887. 

By all means have bread and milk for supper,^ if you 
like it best. ... I wonder how all goes with you. You 
know, I needn't tell you that — you know how delightful I 
think all good and nice amusements — but I am some- 
times afraid, my dearest boy, that you may be forgetting 
how critical this term is to you. I hate anything that 
sounds like a threat — this isn't that — but it is a reminder. 
Because the term is passing, and each day is fixing, whether 
you will or no, your fate in a way quite different from the 
ordinary way — and I know you are inclined at the moment 
to lose sight of this. O Hugh, do remember all that was 
said to you last holidays ! We only don't say it always 
because there is no good in that, but it becomes like a tale 
that is told — but our minds don't alter. We must help you 
to gain character and purpose and all those things that 

^ The Archbishop, on November 25, 1887, uses these words: "Martial is 
very witty, is it not? so terse and neat." I wish diffidently to suggest that 
anyone who could speak of Martial as " it" reveals that he still " felt " that 
astoundingly human (though perhaps most displeasing) creature as a book, not 
a man. This really differentiates the Archbishop's attitude — though it was not 
confined to him — towards school study of the classics, from that which Hugh was, 
I believe, capable of taking, but which, from lack of assistance, he never took. 
Still, here was Hugh reading Martial at only just sixteen ! 

* Not that Hugh was above gastronomic preoccupations. 

Eton College, Windsor. 1888. 

Please ask Beth to send my hamper at once if she can — because we have 
literally not one morsel to put in our mouths. We are literally starving, though 
I don't wish in the least to alarm you, but we are wasting away with famine. 


you need, and it must be by deeds now, not words. Deeds 
which would be as sad to us as they would to you, but 
which we should do all the same, with God's help. I feel 
as if I were some one else writing to you — it came over me 
so this morning how terribly critical it was — I didn't think 
you seemed quite to be realising it — and I thought I must 
just write one great plead to you, and then leave it — but 
don't you leave it — do take it home to you — sixteen on 
November i8th. Martin was only seventeen when he 
came out head of the school at Winchester. 

But a little later news comes that he is working better 
— "only go on and on — there is plenty of possibility — 
we know — do use it all." 

The year 1888 passed in fitful improvement and 

relapse. The Archbishop had been reading the Medea 

of Euripides in Mr. Arthur Sidgwick's blue-backed edition, 

with his son during the holidays, and on February 11, 1888, 

he wrote : 

Lambeth Palace, S.E., 
February ii, 1888. 

My dearest Hughie, — I hope these cold winds have 
not nipped your nose or your throat. I am slowly 
struggling out of the serpentine coils of a cold which has 
gripped me like a Laocoon all over. 

I have even not cared for riding — but Maggie and 
I went quickly round Battersea Park this morning. 

When you have done a good bit of composition some 
time soon, send it me. Have you found " Medea Sidgwick 

How we envy Nellie her sunshine, to say nothing of 
her Niles and her Crocodiles and Obelisks ! 

I have got a beautiful book of " Monuments " which 
reveal the fact that there are more beautiful things in 
London than I knew of. 

Make Mr. Luxmoore tell you how he thinks you are 
going on and getting on — ask him straight out — and tell 
me on Tuesday. 

We are going down for a few hours to Winchester on 
Monday. You remember why — and will remember us 
there. Happy Sunday to you. — Your loving father, 

Edw. Cantuar. 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1 882-1 889 45 
To his mother, Hugh himself would write : 

Eton College, Windsor. 1888. 
Mr. Lyttelton has been talking to me, and I am going 
to work just lots — I am going to read Green's history 
this half, and begin to learn Italian, by myself. I am 
glad I am not to be made to learn it, solemnly, for two 
hours a day — I hate that. 

On March 23, 1888, the Archbishop wrote from 
Lambeth Palace to Hugh, who was working up for Trials 
in Mr. A. C. Benson's room : 

... I quite agree that your handwriting is improving 
very much. It looks very neat, and is very legible — and 
will be, I think, a good scholarly hand. 

May 4, 1888. 

How are you getting on ? Who are you up to ? What 
are your books ? Can I send you anything ? Mind you 
tell me all. 

Yet just a year afterwards the anxious note sounds 
unaltered : 

May 19, 1889. 

I hope you are not letting the classical work be im- 
paired — I rather thought some of the edges seemed a 
little rubbed off in the last construing I heard of yours. 
Of course you must not let that happen, whatever you do. 

Of course, too, the fact remains that Hugh Benson never 
became a " scholar " in any sense, and never wanted to, 
and probably never could have, become one. Even had 
the order, say, of a religious superior, made it his duty 
to apply himself consistently to " scholarship," he would 
quite certainly have been miserable, and therefore un- 
successful. Even in his chosen department, ascetical 
and mystical theology, he never could work save by fits 
and starts ; and at Rome, when his new Catholic fervour, 
environment, and the subject, conspired to make study 
tolerable to him, he cries out, at the prospect of an 


obligatory three years of theology, " I doubt whether I 
COULD have stood it." 

Possibly the violent clash of this artist's temperament 
with the clumsy method mostly in vogue at Eton and, of 
course, nearly everywhere else, when Benson was a boy, 
was responsible for the fact that after four years he " had 
learned so to hate the classics that I have never, willingly, 
read a Greek play since ; I fumbled, the other day only, 
over a sum in simple division, and it has never entered 
my head to try and win a Latin Verse prize in the West- 
minster Gazette. . . . There are to-day, I suppose, still 
left two subjects which I can study without repugnance 
— history and English ; since in neither of these two 
branches of knowledge can I remember a single lesson 
ever being given me while I was at school." 

In the same article, which appeared in Everyman, 
December 24, 191 2, he asserts that at his crammer's, 
where he went for a year after leaving Eton, he learnt 
"not just a few examinational tips, a few brilliant and 
telling touches, but more of the solid principles of 
mathematics, more of the general outlines of history in 
its broad and really important aspect, more of the real 
glories of the classics . . . than in all my four years at 
Eton." In Brittany, too, where he spent a month or so, 
he found that French was a language in which " . . . real 
ideas could be conveyed," and learnt more of it than 
ever at Eton. He puts this down to the total disregard 
at Eton (and, of course, he explicitly declares, at all of 
the greater public schools) of the idiosyncrasies of the 
individual. Over all alike rolls the traditional Juggernaut. 
Eton is, however, without guessing it, the most insane of 
specialists, he urges, and drills the boys remorselessly in 
a sub-department of classical study, and teaches them to 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1 882-1 889 47 

wield a few only of the tools of the most narrow-minded 
and complacent class in the world, "the classical gram- 
marian." He concludes by lamenting the dreariness of 
such teaching as is given, and asks, " Whose business was 
it to interest me, if not my masters' ? " 

The best retort which I have seen addressed to this 
article appeared in the same periodical, from the pen 
of an Eton master, and its simplest argument was that 
Hugh Benson was speaking of an Eton already twenty 
years distant. The writer could point to increased special- 
isation, and could plead the apologia of wearied masters, 
and could mention, as contrary instance, Mr. A. C. Benson 
himself and the history lessons which he made famous. 
Of course, " instances to the contrary " prove little. Prob- 
ably all schools will have at least one master in them 
who can " interest " his boys, or even thrill them, like 
E. E. Bowen of Harrow, or Cory of Eton, or Mr. A. C. 
Benson. The question of amount of specialisation, and 
its proper moment, is, moreover, still an open one. And 
though much was dead in the old education given in our 
schools, much is shoddy in the tinkering that goes on too 
often nowadays, and is called reform. It is even a ques- 
tion whether to live vulgarly be not worse than to die like 
Sir Leicester Dedlock. It remains that Hugh Benson did 
not solve his problem. Even he would have probably 
granted that in modern schools chaos has often replaced 
petrifaction, and that no more educationally appalling 
spectacle can be conceived than a would-be educational 
establishment simultaneously blanched by the blight of 
the examination system and harassed by the chameleon- 
tinted whims of modernizers. 

Of course all purely intellectual education should be 
subordinated to the general training of the character. 


This was what preoccupied, I need not say, the mind of 
the Archbishop and his wife far beyond mere scholarship. 

By quoting a few extracts from his parents' letters, I 
may make it clear what tendencies in Hugh needed, in 
their opinion, stimulus or check. 

I am sure [the Archbishop wrote on May 7, 1887], 
you won't forget all our talks about Confirmation — and, 
what is much more important, you will be sure to re- 
member Confirmation itself— your promises — and the cer- 
tainty that God will give you the strength you need — . . . 
let your last day at home before going to school be a day 
that shall leave happy and sweet memories with everyone. 
Do you understand ? — I hope you will have a happy and 
thoughtful Sunday. 

Hugh had indeed showed, at first, however, no attrac- 
tion towards Confirmation, and that rite had been post- 
poned for a year or two. This tendency to laisser aller 
was very marked at this time and annoyed his father 


Addington Park, Croydon, 
October 21, 1887. 

I asked you particularly at once to answer me a certain 
question, I was depending on the answer coming at 
once. Please let me know directly. 

I want also to know how you think you are doing in 

I wrote very fully lately about other things. And so 
I will add no more. 

I wish you a good and happy Sunday. — Your affec- 
tionate father, Edw. Cantuar. 

His mother saw the same need for accentuating the 

harder or more self-sacrificing side of his life : 

Addington Park, Croydon, 
November 17, 1887. 

Dearest of dear Boys, — All best and sweetest 
wishes for to-morrow. . . . My own dear boy, you know 
I long that you may have all best blessings — specially 
just now the development of manhood which sixteen 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1 882-1 889 49 

years seems appropriate to — . . . Come home to us proud 
and happy. 

Incidentally, one may add that his tendency, now, to 
slackness showed itself in a total inability to keep accounts, 
which, indeed, pursued him throughout life, with the ex- 
ception of pathetic periods of attempted accuracy.^ But 
having said this, I must undoubtedly emphasize the fact 
that by no means was any radical nervelessness or apathy 
then or ever apparent in him. He was full of his own 
interests, and endlessly busy over them. Moreover, he 
loved his home ties, and was " fussy " for letters from Mrs. 
Benson, who wrote regularly on Tuesdays, with the rarest 
lapses, due to the enormous exactions of the Archi- 
episcopal career. With his sister, too, he was on the best 
of terms. A characteristic letter survives, to write which 
mother and sister joined : 

May 12. 1888. 

Dearest Laddie, — I did enjoy your letter immensely, 
and I am going now to be quite regular again in writ- 
ing. I haven't been very well — and things have been 
difficult. . . . Oh ! oh ! did they call his hammock an " un- 
necessary luxury" ?2 Never mind — [Miss Margaret Benson 

^ (From Mrs. Benson) 

Lambeth Palace, S.E., 
July IS, 1889. 
N.B. — Mind you write to me fully about this [unpaid boat subscription at 
Eton], for I must know all about it thoroughly. It amounted to £2, os. od. Do 
give your mind to be careful about money — and accounts . . . situated as we are, 
it is even more important for us than for others to be very careful. 

But we shall see that later on he has his accounts kept for him, and had a 
good head for money matters. 

Nor was he even now unaware of certain temperamental deficiencies. He 
writes in 1887 (?) : 

" Could you send me 5s. of the los. that I have during the half — I had rather 
not have the whole lOs. at once, as I know I should spend it all too quick." 

^ Hugh had observed about the authority who had forbidden him to put his 
hammock up : 

" I should love to tell him that he is quite ' unnecessary,' and certainly not a 
' luxury,' and therefore he mayn't be • up.' I never heard such bosh ! " 

I D 


continues.] Mama couldn't finish this, so I am going 
to. . . . We are going to Parties to-night — to dinner, and 
then on, like regular Londoners, to the Russian ambassa- 
dor's. Beth wants me to put on a soiled dress, because 
she says she always reckons that foreigners' houses will 
be dirty. Mr. B. has come to-day. He looks rather stiff, 
I think, but you may put him on your list — who knows? 
It is such an inscrutable list. 

On his side, Hugh appealed willingly to his sister at 

intellectual crises : 

Eton College, Windsor, 
May 12. 

I have been elected to " College Pop," and have to 
make my opening speech next Saturday on "Sunday 
Closing," and have written to Maggie to ask her for some 
arguments about it : I want several, as I shall have to 
speak last, and therefore shall probably have several taken 
by other people before my turn comes. 

I seem thus to perceive in Hugh a personality full of 
" stuff," fluid as yet, but destined to " set " very firmly and 
to take the stamp with edges unusually cleanly cut. But 
that was for the future. 

Meanwhile religion was, not quite wholly in abeyance, 
perhaps, but dormant in the main. 

"I cannot recall," Mr. Hill affirms, "any strong religious 
feeling in Hugh. I remember him telling me with rather a 
show of boredom how he was expected ' to go to chapel ' in 
the holidays at Addington every day, or at least take part 

in some service — after breakfast, I think it was. He, S , 

and myself used to snatch a fearful joy in watching X 

conducting the services in chapel and imitating him after- 

Reverence for the essential object of religion and a 
detached, even amused, criticism of its cult, can quite 
well go together, as Greek and medieval history can show, 
and as Hugh's own life will, by many examples, prove ; or 
can it be that at this period he was anticipating "that 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 51 

terrible age " (of eighteen) when " the soul seems to have 
dwindled to a spark overlaid by a mountain of ashes — 
when blood and fire and death and loud noises seem 
the only things of interest, and all tender things shrink 
back and hide from the dreadful noonday of manhood " ? * 
This, of course, would at any time be true no more 
than partially of Hugh Benson, who was never particu- 
larly noisy, less so even than the average public school 
boy, who can be relied upon to conceal his callow 
instincts, save on the occasions strictly scheduled by 
public opinion, under the most rigidly non-committal 
mask ; and he was never purely destructive, even when 
he took vehemently to sport. Here, too, he followed 
his own line, his father and mother having been con- 
fessedly " Buddhists " in the matter of taking life, while 
to the Archbishop, wantonly to destroy flower or fern 
appeared a downright breach of the Commandment which 
forbids man to take in vain the name of his Maker. 

Hugh therefore asked at last when his Confirmation 
was to occur, and was genuinely astonished to find it had 
been put off because he had shown no sincere desire for 
it. He had regarded it as a kind of " spiritual coming-of- 
age" which happened automatically. At least, he felt, 
the Archbishop ought to have "given him a lead." 

Dr. Lyttelton writes of Hugh's "preparation " : 

I can recall the exact spot in a huge armchair where 
he sat and I was preparing him for his Confirmation. I 
don't think he understood much, and was not the sort of 
boy to feel very deeply the sense of sin. 

And Hugh recalls that these half-dozen talks, according 
to the custom of that time, went chiefly on the topics of 
morality and the need of being strenuous. A suggestion, 

^ Ltg'At Invisible, p. 19. 


Hugh says, of " informal confession," elicited, naturally, the 
response that he had nothing to reveal. Dr. Goulburn's 
book. Personal Religion^ was presented to him, and remained 
with pages uncut. A discussion on the propriety of fives 
being played in the afternoon issued in a decision favour- 
able to the game, which was played, however, with a 
"slightly chastened air." He lost the Maltese cross his 
mother gave him, and was depressed at the feeling, sin- 
cerely obeyed at first, that Communion, more impressive 
than Confirmation, implied a duty of behaving better in the 
future. A copy of Bishop Ken's Prayers for Winchester 
scholars, in the "gracious formality" of their Caroline 
English, and discovered in a store-room at Lambeth, 
touched his imagination. He used it assiduously for a 
few months — then dropped it, and with it all prayer, and 
confined his Communions to occasions when absence 
would have caused remark. 

Not that the Chapel failed to affect him, though it still 
lacked the dignity of bronze and rich blue marble for its 
altar, and had less coat-armour on the walls of its ante- 
chapel, than since the Boer War, to give it colour. Still, 
the manifold slender and soaring lines of its Perpendicular 
architecture create spontaneously the effect of aspiration, 
and the singing is sometimes beautiful, and often of that 
" heartiness " which impresses visitors so profoundly and 
is not too curiously examined into, as to cause and quality, 
even by the singer. Apart, however, from such emotions 
as the place and time might afford, there was no 
strengthening of the soul by dogma : the professors of 
religion themselves held but rarely to clear dogmatic 
creed, and, anyhow, in a representative institution like a 
big public school, especially when it is one of the older 
foundations, to preach a definite dogma is impossible. 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 53 

Above all, Benson argues, in things spiritual as in things 
intellectual, there was no catering for the individual soul ; 
nothing comparable to "direction" — he will not say, to 
" confession." In the Confirmation " jaws," dogma might 
have reared a timid head, and personal confidences have 
been solicited. Benson's tutor did indeed ask him if he 
had any "difficulties," and, when he recovered from the 
shock, he answered No, having, he afterwards declared 
(in Everyman^ January 3, 1913), at least twenty or thirty 
topics on which it would have benefited him enormously 
throughout life to have spoken, in properly safeguarded 
confidence, to a wise man. Briefly, it may be asserted 
that there is no possible substitute for the confessional, 
or, rather, for a priest accustomed to that tribunal and 
thoroughly trained. When Benson alludes in Everyman 
to the Evangelical schools with their heart-to-heart talks 
and "conversions," and to the Anglican schools which, 
like those of the Woodard foundation, have some sort of 
approximation, exteriorly, to the Catholic system, he 
knows quite well he does so only in an effort to be 
impartial, and also, perhaps, to recommend his view 
more easily to a general public such as he sought to 
reach when writing in that periodical ; and that really 
there is no kind of comparison to be made between them 
and the immemorial Catholic practice and elaborated 
theory. No claims of courtesy and tolerance demand 
of us that we should in any way delude ourselves or 
others upon this point. In consequence, therefore, of 
this lack of personal direction, or even of general 
dogmatic instruction, the mystical element in boys tends 
to break out fantastically, or at least quite indefinably — 
and it is constantly forgotten what incurable mystics most 
boys turn out to be, intermittently at least, and probably 


in secret. In Catholic schools all religion is canalised, 
so to say, and even devotion flows mainly within fixed 
limits. Where religion was firmly taught at home, it 
would show itself, at Eton, say, in the voluntary 
attendance of a very considerable number of boys at the 
Communion Service in the parish church when none 
was provided in the chapel. Where the family was 
High Church, it might produce an apostle who should 
form a group to recite Compline each night ; where it 
was Evangelical, " conversion " might be responsible for 
Bible-meetings and prayer, terminated at once, on the 
only occasion on which Benson assisted, by an explo- 
sion of half-hysterical laughter. This, it must be owned, 
was "wholly uncharacteristic of Eton," as was the 
horrible incident which he relates in his Confessions. 
His Low Church evangelist invited an "old boy" to 
come down to Eton and address the House, which he 
did, emotionally, and giving his speech the air of a con- 
fession. Naturally the boys were appalled at the offence 
— for as such everyone, not Eton boys alone, must feel 
it — against sheer " form " and taste. For a boy, sin 
and sanctity are above all else to be kept secret. To 
expose the roots of his soul, or indeed any part of 
that shrinking thing's construction, should be, for him, 
the grossest of indecencies. 

It would be idle to dwell upon Hugh Benson's 
reminiscences of the Eton moral code. It is that of all 
public schools, and has nothing to do with theology or 
even the Ten Commandments. If you don't interfere with 
others, others will let you alone ; boots hurled at boys who 
persist in saying their prayers survive only as adornments 
of those school-stories which are written for the entertain- 
ment of aunts and others who like to imagine they know 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 55 

what their nephew's life at school is like, and are rightly 
clear that it is not probable he will tell them. A strictly 
limited truthfulness, a very curious scheme of " honour," 
athletic courage, verbal modesty, liberality, and clean- 
ness in dressing and eating are exacted by Public Opinion 
as Good Form, and what may have gone to fashion this 
it appears to me idle even to attempt to formulate. It 
remains that it is as ridiculous to regard a public school 
as a " sink " or " den " of iniquity (these are the words 
one mostly has heard used), as to describe a Catholic 
school as an enclosed paradise of virtue. Each has its 
code, which can only be appreciated by close and 
sympathetic study ; and even where the codes may coin- 
cide, the whole interior attitude may be so different — 
at least at certain levels in the boys' souls — that to compare 
the two is to court the utmost error. 

It is interesting to observe that the Archbishop, in the 
very year that was supplying Hugh with the best materials 
for these future reflections, was writing, on his sixtieth 
birthday, an autobiographical note. In it he says : 

Now, if I think — what would I do quite differently 
if it came again ? The plainest point is, that I would speak 
to my boys much more religiously — and straight to the 
point of Love of God, in educating a great school. The 
chapel and the sermons not individual enough, though, 
so far as they went, right and not to be changed. 

His son also demanded an insistence on that Love 
which alone should be capable of ousting its own 
caricatures. Yet perhaps he and Hugh — the Catholic 
Hugh, at any rate — were never really at one about what 
vital religion really was. It will not be denied that the 
Archbishop actively disliked as well as disbelieved in 
Catholicism, and, though he could, as we saw, "think 


with a workman's mind," he never could look out at 
heaven and earth with Catholic eyes.^ 

However, the time had come for Hugh to choose 
a career, and his tastes inclined, it seemed, towards the 
Indian Civil Service. That this was a disappointment to 
his father cannot be denied ; but nothing can equal the 
loyalty with which the Archbishop refrained from coercing 
his son's liberty, and demanded nothing more than that 
the situation should be clearly stated and deliberately 
thought out. 

He wrote on May 27, 1889 : 

Lambeth Palace, S.E. 

... I want you to have clear before you the questions 
which we have to decide, and I shall be ready to hear 
your views about them — and I pray that we may be led 
to make a right decision. [He puts the case, and re- 
capitulates.] The three plans are — 

1. To try for the I.C.S. in 1890 : — To do so with the 
best chance of success seems to involve your leaving 
Eton this summer. [He adds on re-reading :] If you 
failed in 1890, what would you do ? — there would be a year 
between tka( and Cambridge ordinarily. 

2. To try for the I.C.S. in 1890 without leaving Eton 
now — and to go on at Eton, if you fail, until 1891. This 
does not seem very hopeful as regards success for India. 

3. To give up the I.C.S. and go on at Eton till the 
time comes for going to Cambridge. ... If this latter 
plan is adopted, I hope you would not find the stimulus 
removed, and that you would really work on with all your 
might at classics and mathematics mainly. I should be 
much disappointed if you worked less well. 

Now, then, the choice is before you, and you must 
think it over and let me know. 

^ Nothing is stranger than to read, as a Catholic, his comments on — I will 
choose two points — the practice of the Confessional and its results, and modem 
monasticism, especially in modern Italy. His views are so utterly justified from 
his point of view, and yet so psychologically untrue to fact, while so exclusive 
even of the surmise that they are thus untrue. ... 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 57 

From the same : 

Lambeth Palace, S.E., 
June 3, 1889. 

My dearest Hugh, — I am very sorry to think of your 
leaving Eton. The loss of a year in the Sixth can never 
be made up, and in your case it would be two years. All 
the good of school then gets concentrated and made 
productive. But I said you should, if you resolved on 
desiring it, have a chance of entering the Indian Civil 
Service, and so I shall not throw any obstacle in your 
way by any action of mine. ... It will be grievous work 
parting with you for India, but God watches there as well 
as here, " without slumbering or sleeping." 

I hope you often say over the Psalm Quicumque Confidit. 

Hugh decided that the Indian Civil Service was what 
he really wanted, and on June 20 the Archbishop noted 
in his diary : 

A new power of manliness seems to have come over 
him. I trust, in answer to the many prayers, "that he 
may know himself to be God's servant and God's child, 
and live as to the Lord, and not as to men." 

" Our little sheltered boy ! " his mother says and breaks 
my heart. I always reckoned on this one to be my great 
friend as I grew old. 

It is no doubt true that Hugh had been working harder 
for some time, and had won his way into " First Hundred," 
as the Sixth Form with the next three classical divisions in 
the school are habitually and officially called. 

On April 28 his mother wrote from Lambeth : 

April 28. 

Hurrah ! and Hurrah ! for the First Hundred. I am 
that glad, and so are we all. I told your father in the 
middle of a distinguished company — I couldn't hold it in 
— and he was so glad. . . . Let the term be a beautiful 
one, my own dear boy, full of work and all lovely things. 
I hate your reading Truth and Police News. Do think 
better of it . . . it's like preferring a sewer to the Thames. 


Moreover, he wrote for the Hervey Prize Poem, on 
Father Damien, and won it, which caused everybody quite 
as much astonishment as pleasure.^ But for all that he 
was condemned to leave Eton, and on his last night there 
he wrote ; 

I write this on Thursday evening after ten. Peel 
keeping passage.^ 

My feelings on leaving are — 

Foreboding of Wren's and fellows there. 
Sorrow at leaving Eton. 
Pride at being an old Etonian. 
Certain pleasure in leaving for many trivial matters. 
Feeling of importance. 
Frightful longing for India. 


^ Yet he had shown an astonishing bent for versification. Two poems of his 
survive from 1881, of which some lines are quoted in the Appendix. Also in 
1888 or 1889 he wrote two stories : Fate, and an unnamed ghost story. I give the 
outline of these in the same place. In The Present Etonian, November 6, 
1888, is a conventionally humorous account of a Village Concert ; and in House- 
hold Queries rather later, a Tennysonian epic, a poem on Loki. 

2 "Peel is Sidney Peel, then in Sixth Form. The passages are patrolled 
by the Sixth Form from ten to half-past, to see that no boy leaves his room 
without permission." A. C. Benson, Hugh, p. 46. 

' There are very few relics of this period. One is a letter from Beth who, 
Mr. A. C. Benson tells us, found letter-writing most laborious : 

Addington Park, Croydon. 

[? November, 1887] Tuesday. 
Dearest, — One line to tell you I am sending your Box to-morrow, Wednesday. 
I hope you will get it before tea-time. I know you will like something for 
tea ; you can keep your cake for your Birthday. I shall think about you on 
Friday. Everybody has gone away, so I had no one to write for me. I thought 
you would not mind me writing to you. Dearest love from your dear 


A deliciously frightful sepia sketch, too, survives. It shows two leafless trees 
with carrion crows seated on them. The sky is black ; rain pours down. From 
a marsh a hand protrudes, and on it is a label bearing the words, A RoTTiNG 
Corpse. Upon the back of this is to be found his time-table for the "First 

AT CLEVEDON AND ETON, 1882-1889 59 

Hugh Benson left Eton, then, and if we are unable to 
detect during his stay there much that will be characteristic, 
we can certainly notice in this final document a really 
remarkable self-knowledge. Few boys would own, in the 
very first place, to excitement ; few, to apprehension of 
the next step to be taken and of the equals to be expected 
there. To note that one "feels important" is frank 
beyond the common; the "frightful longing" for India 
is in itself a revelation. No amount of fear could annul 
the desire of the moment. This fear and this " appetite " 
will accompany him through life. And the home-sickness 
is, I take it, for the England and the parents he would 
leave when India summoned him, and by no means for 
Eton ; for her, he has already expressed his qualified 
regrets. And the whole ends with the supremely charac- 
teristic exclamation which he will use to the end when 
standing aghast at the bewilderments of life and its exac- 
tions ; and, after all, it was long ago decided that the 
mother of all philosophy was Wonder. 

Hundred." It includes hours for Herodotus, Livy, Horace, Vergil, the Baccha, 
the Epistle to the Romans, Greek and Latin prose, Latin verse and Greek 
iambics. Besides this I find only one note-book, full of drawings of butterflies 
and moths, with very full notes. The drawings are really excellent for a boy of 
his age, and suggest that he will always do better at diagrams than at realistic 
sketches. I must however note the possibility of this note-book, though found 
with Hugh Benson's possessions, having been in reality the work of Mr. E. F. 
Benson. It must be, too, confessed that his handwriting is better at this period 
than ever it was to be again, though less characteristic. 


AT WREN'S, 1889-1890 

I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds ; 

Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds 

From the hid battlements of Eternity ; 

Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then 

Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again. 

Francis Thompson. 

Hugh Benson left Eton, then, before his time, and after a 
brief stay abroad was sent to a crammer's, whose assistance 
was regarded by Hugh's family as an "operation" made 
necessary by his somewhat unsatisfactory intellectual 

He went, however, first of all to Dinan, and on June 30 
his father wrote the following letter, quoted also by Mr. 
A. C. Benson in Hugh. It is so characteristic that I make 
no apology for quoting it again in full : 

Lambeth Palace, S.E., 
June 30, 1889. 

My dearest Hughie, — We have been rather mourn- 
ing about not hearing one word from you. We supposed 
all would be right as you were a large party. But one 
word would be so easy to those who love you so, who 
have done all they could to enable you to follow your 
own line, against their own wishes and affection ! 

We hope at any rate you are writing to-day. And we 
have sent off " Pioneers and Founders," which we hope 
will both give you happy and interesting Sunday reading 
and remind you of us. 

Mr. Spiers writes that you are backward in French, 
but getting on rather fast. 

I want you now at the beginning of this cramming 
year to make two or three Resolutions, besides those which 
you know and have thought of often and practised : 


AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 61 

I. To determine never to do any secular examination 
work on Sundays — to keep all reading that day as fitting 
"The Lords Day," and the "Day of Rest." 

I had a poor friend who would have done very well 
at Oxford, but he would make no difference between 
Sunday and other days. He worked on just the same — 
and in the examination itself , just as the goal was reached, 
he broke down and took no degree. The doctors said 
it was all owing to the continuous nervous strain. If he 
had taken the Sundays it would just have saved him. 

Lord Selborne was once telling me of his tremendous 
work at one time, and he said, " I never could have done it, 
but that I took my Sundays. I never would work on them." 

We have arranged for you to go over to the Holy 
Communion one day at Dinan. Perhaps some nice 
fellow will go with you — Mr. Spiers will, anyhow. Tell 
us which Sunday, so that we may all be with you. 

Last night we dined at the Speaker's, to meet the 
Prince and Princess of Wales. It was very interesting. 
The Terrace of the House of Commons was lighted with 
electric light. A steamer went by and cheered ! 

The Shah will fill London with grand spectacles, and 
I suppose his coming will have much effect on politics — 
perhaps of India too. All are well. — Ever your most 
loving father, Edw. Cantuar. 

I am going to preach at the Abbey to-night. 

Hugh remained very pleased with the progress he made 
in French ; but he never kept it up, and, incredible as it may 
seem, he went through life unable either really to read or talk 
it, though in the work, both literary and personal, to which 
he gave himself, it may be described as only just not essential. 

By mid-July, indeed, he has finished with French, and is 
in Switzerland, I gather, on the way to his uncle, Mr. Chris- 
topher Benson, who lived at Wiesbaden. His father speaks 
of "your changed far-away life," and adds on July 12, 1889 : 

You must be sure to keep up the high strong line of 
manliness which all your training has led you on to. And 
you will not forget that he cannot be a true "man" 


who is not a " man of GOD." . . . Don't forget about 
working on Sunday. Never do it. Regard it — as it is — 
as the '' Day of Rest and Worships 

One fragment from his stay in France is worth pre- 
serving : 

We went a long expedition yesterday, sixty miles there 
and back, by carriage : and returning, I ran about seven 
miles out of the thirty by the side of the carriage, and am 
hardly at all stiff this morning. 

I send you one photograph of myself and a splendid 
Algerian greyhound " Simoun," who can keep well up 
with an average train fifteen miles, and a carriage a 
hundred and fifty miles : this also shows the colour of 
my hands and face very accurately : I have also grown 
about four feet : and another of a fishing expedition we 
went : I should like the one of the dog and me back 
when I come, as I have not another of it, and I want to 
keep them all together. 

By July 22 the news that he had won the Hervey 

Prize Poem had reached Lambeth. "Dr. Warre," writes 

his father, "says it has a very good tone about it and a 

quiet thoughtfulness that lends it a charm." I believe 

that these poems were not printed, and doubtless the loss 

of such compositions is not heavy : still, it would have 

been entertaining to see Hugh at his most academic and 

conventional. This poem brought him, a little later, as 

a present from the Archbishop, a portrait of Father 

Damien's " fine, kind, benevolent, determined face." 

Hotel db la Plage, Portrieux, 
July 25, 1889. 
My dear Papa, — Thank you very much for your letter : 
I was so tremendously surprised about the Hervey Prize.^ 

^ To his mother he wrote : 

Portrieux, y«i^ 27. 

I was so enormously surprised about the Hervey Prize — I had so little thought 
of getting it, that I had forgotten all about it, and for the first moment couldn't 
remember what it was. 

Nothing could better exemplify his already triumphant instinct for forgetting 
what was past and going straight on to the next thing. 

AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 63 

I should like to stay with Mr. Kevill Davies very much : 
it sounds very nice, and should prefer to have only one 
room : it would seem more compact and altogether nicer, 
I think, to have all my things in one room. 

H. seemed to like Mrs. Kevill Davies very much. 

I think also that it would be very convenient lunching 
at Mr. Spiers' ; I should only have to, I believe, four times 
a week : and the other two days I could go back to Long- 
ridge Road : Isn't it a pity about H. ? He has been work- 
ing tremendously, sometimes fourteen hours a day : and 
they all said he was certain to get in — but he failed. He 
was in the Indian and Civil — I should think probably he 

I suppose Mama will write and tell me the particulars 
of my journey. I can leave here any day on or after 
next Thursday. — Your very loving son, 

Robert Hugh Benson. 

Hugh had not, however, concerned himself at first with 
staying at a stranger's. On June 10 he had characteristi- 
cally written to his mother : 

Eton College, Windsor, 
J^une ID, 1889. 

I have got a lovely idea, but don't say anything about 
it yet : I don't know if it would be possible, but I don't 
see why not. 

To have two rooms in Morton's Tower got ready, I 
could bring up all my things from Eton and furnish them, 
or at least one of them, and stay there always. I could 
come over for meals in the house while you were there ; 
and when you were not there, Mrs. Humphreys or Mrs. 
Parker could cook for me : it would be lovely. 

It would have all the advantages of lodgings, such as 
being able to go in and out when I wished, besides having 
none of the disadvantages. 

Meanwhile Hugh is learning to climb, and apparently 
taking risks. An echo is heard in a letter from his mother : 
" The fearful incident of the rocks and the rope made my 
blood run rather cold." 


Early in August he is at Wiesbaden, and there spends 
a few days to learn some German. He is enthusiastic 
over his progress, and his mother, with deliberate humour, 
hopes he is getting on as fast with German as he did with 
French. German, too, alas ! remained an unlearnt lan- 
guage for him always. Of incidents at Wiesbaden none 
can be recalled save the purchase of a fox-cub, which 
Mrs. Benson regretted because it was extravagant (and 
he was sending in no accounts of his expenditure !), and he 
couldn't possibly carry it about with him. Beth, on her 
side, implored his mother to forbid him keeping it. " Foxes 
are so sly, and it'll be sure to kill him when it gets older." ^ 

In mid-August he returned to England by way of Paris 
— " I saw the Exhibition," he writes, " and went half-way 
up the Eiffel Tower ; just marvellous : ' Is it seen with the 
eyes ? ' is the first thing you think when you are near " ^ — 
and went to Wren's and Gurney's coaching establishment, 
lodging at the Rev. Kevill Davies's house in Kensington, 
for, on his return, he found he had crossed his family on 
their way out to the Riffel Alp where the Archbishop often 
went for a holiday. From Zermatt his mother wrote 
to him : 

Zermatt, August 25, 1889. 

It is most horrid to be holiday-making here without 
you, and to think of you grinding your nine hours a day in 
stuffy old London. Still — India beckons, and Hugh says 
" I come " — and there is certainly no other way of 
coming. . . . There have been very few accidents this 
year. One man, who is getting better, rolled down the 
Matterhorn about 1200 feet, and bounded over two glaciers 
in his roll, he preserving complete consciousness all the 
time, and calculating whether or not he would fall into 

^ At Eton he is remembered for his fondness of animals. He proposed to 
cajole the Archbishop into keeping kangaroos at Addington. 

* This was an exclamation of Beth's when she first saw a snow mountain in 

AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 65 

the glacier. When he stopped he got up — and had his 
ice-axe in his hand all the time. 

From the same place his father wrote two days later a 
long letter of advice on the importance of sleep and 
exercise, and concludes : 

You know we fear our dear Martin did not know their 

He adds : 

Keep your prayers and a few verses of the Bible- 
reading very undisturbed by anxieties — and as each piece 
of work begins, just quietly for one moment " lift up your 
heart," — SvRSVM CoR. Then all will go in peace — and 
your fortnightly (or weekly) communion I am sure you 
will not omit. It has been such a strength and growth to 
you — testis sum. 

And he repeats the advice on September 12, 1889, 
adding : 

It is a good thing both physically and spiritually to 
do what Prudentius says — 

., ,,, Corpus licet fatiscens 

Jaceat recline paullum 
Jesum tamen sub ipso 
Meditabiniur sopore ; 

which Martin translated : 

Then let the weary body 

A little while repose : 
The last thought be of Jesus 

Before thine eyelids close. 

(You know the temporal use of .y«^ = just before.) 

It was at this period that one of Miss M. Benson's 
letters reveals for a moment the peculiarly close relations 
existing between herself and Hugh. She habitually wrote 
him letters of a unique charm. She had the Greek " irony " ; 
and after most sensitive descriptions of scenery — Egypt, 


Tenedos, Troy — which had really impressed her by its 
beauty or associations, was able herself to prick any 
bubble of pomposity or preciosity she might seemingly 
have blown, by the pin-point of her humour. Her ex- 
tremely acute comments on, for instance, visitors, ecclesi- 
astical duties, and the like, show a real mental detachment 
and objective power of " realising " what an atmosphere of 
ecclesiastical domesticity might tend normally to distort,^ 
and she would laugh whole-heartedly at the " high talk," 
" such as," Beth said, " our gentlemen talk." 

She, inspired by sitting in the chair of the Priest of 
Dionysus in the theatre at Athens, asks to be helped by 
Hugh, through reading and discussion, to get above the 
narrowing life of "doing my Duty." To be absorbed in 
" helping others " she sees to be " certain ruin." She wants 
to read with him, not as " a covert way of improving you — 
only I would rather read with you than with anyone — you 
like poetry, I know — besides — well — you are you — I wonder 
whether you know how much I have felt that, from the 
time when I used to teach you out of Reading without 
Tears — right up to now — when our relation is an equal 
one — for age matters so little after the very first years of 
all " ; and at the time of his eighteenth birthday she adds : 

I have been considering you as well over eighteen for 
some time past. ... I must stop if this is to reach you 
before what Beth persists in calling your birthafa^, meaning 
your \i\x\hinoment, i.e. 9.20 to-night. I remarked that the 
whole day was your birthday. She said. Oh ! she thought 
not — it was 9.20. 

I've been thinking that when some one edits your Life 
and letters, they will be puzzled over " Brer Rabbit," ^ and 

^ And indeed it may in all courtesy be confessed that it would be difficult to 
encounter a family more serenely able and willing to observe and assess its own 
members than is hers. 

* Her nickname for Hugh. 

AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 67 

will rightly conjecture that " Brer " means brother, and 
make a brilliant suggestion that " Rabbit " is really a mis- 
reading for " Robert." Don't you think so ? Good-bye. 

In one sentence she reveals quite a number of intimate 
little facts. 

^^ None of your dress clothes are here," .she wrote in 
answer to a passionate appeal. " Beth says you must have 
them all." But, Miss Benson adds, a van will be needed 
for the transport of his boots. 

And in a homely line or two she throws all that we 
have of light on Hugh's stay at his crammer's : 

September 15, 1889. 

I am sorry the other boys are like that — cads. But it's 
only, I suppose, what is to be expected, as Beth would say. 
But I am glad you have K. and D. 

The fastidious Hugh came away from the risks of his 
environment untainted, but he failed in his examination for 
the Indian Civil Service, and it was settled he should go 
to Trinity College, Cambridge, and read there for Classical 

In Benson, however, no mood, good or bad, maintained 
itself, at this period at any rate, for very long ; and quite 
apart from a tangential interest in Theosophy, which sent 
him, while at Wren's, down by-ways full of excitement, if 
not of pleasantness, he found his arid waste refreshed 
by two sources, one of which was music, and the other 
J. H. Shorthouse's romance, John Inglesant. Of music 
I hope to speak later, here it must sujEfice to say that its 
enchantment drew him again and again to St. Paul's, 
and put a soul into its ceremonies ; and, as to Isabel Norris 
in By What Authority, the echoing dignity of the Cathedral 
gave the first hint to Hugh of what corporate worship 
might mean. Liddon, then preaching there, did not more 


than passingly affect him ; the boy sat in organ-loft or 
stall, and let the music sweep his soul about, and cleansed 
his spiritual faculties from the clogging experience of 
merely materialistic behaviour. It may not have strength- 
ened him ; but at least it kept him active. 

Of unreckonable importance was his encounter with 
John Inglesant. The strange history of this book is known. 
Written when its author was in full middle-age, delayed 
by the obstinate publishers till he was old, it obtained 
a success which savoured of the portentous. Doubtless 
this was due not wholly to its literary merits : it is long ; 
it lacks balance ; it has no climax ; it is episodic. But 
it suited a party in the English Church, and this Quaker's 
romance played a considerable part in Anglican propaganda. 
But the sensation it created was incomparably wider and 
more varied than is produced by anything just sectarian. 
Shorthouse has managed to cast over persons, scenery, 
and episodes a glamour so enchanting that there is hardly 
any part that does not throb with vitality. He lights up 
what he touches, as it were, from within : it is as though 
sunlight were entangled in some fruit-tree all in flower ; 
the very petals become incandescent ; you can almost 
see the sap circulating, like bubbles of light, in the delicate 
veins of the leaves. Boyhood's imagination (if one more 
witness may be added to Hugh Benson's) falls an easy 
victim to John Inglesant, whose very name has something 
(I once fancifully felt) of that virility and that melody 
which make his story neither too sensuous nor ever less 
than magical. An older critic may marvel how the 
Birmingham chemist, who scarcely knew his England, 
and certainly had never left it, save by guide-book, suc- 
ceeded in capturing not alone the various atmospheres 
of the world of Cavalier and of Puritan and of Laud, 

AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 69 

but of Paris and of Florence, of Naples and of Rome ; 
of cultured Cardinal's palazzo, of Jesuit house and Benedic- 
tine ; of that strange Italian seventeenth-century life, with 
its almost Oriental juxtaposition of splendour and of 
squalor. Over all alike he draws one veil of mirage ; the 
thing is so living, so solemn, and so sweet, that not a 
thousand inaccuracies in detail would buffet one into 
acknowledgment that the whole is anything but truthful. 

Doubtless it was this sheer vitalism which first won 
Benson; it vivified for him this Caroline period with 
extraordinary success ; and it is interesting to see how 
similar the temper of the two authors must have been 
by the similarity in character of what they select to speak 
of in their respective books, and to note with what close 
affinity (not identity) of point of view they envisage the 
life and problems of that age. But there is more than this ; 
so much more, in fact, that I shall be forgiven for recalling 
the outline of John Inglesant. 

Richard Inglesant was a servant of Cromwell, and 
visitor of the Priory of Westacre, with which, after its 
suppression, he was presented. His son John was an 
inquisitive and susceptible child, melancholy too, and at 
once sensuous and a student. Already at fourteen he was 
a "compleat Platonist," and interpreted the Phaedo. To 
the care of Mr. Hall, or Father St. Clare, a Jesuit, Richard 
Inglesant entrusted his son, anxious to see him made an 
agent of that politico-religious scheme which should bring 
the English Church, by a corporate movement, into 
communion with the See of Peter. Plato and St. Teresa 
sharpen his intellect without blunting his spirit of romance, 
and John learns to see the Divine Light shining everywhere 
through the created world, but most, through human 
nature. He passes through court and camp, and stays 


with Nicholas Ferrar at his " Protestant Nunnery " of 
Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire. In Inglesant's life, 
the Little Gidding Sacrament-Sunday with its realisation of 
the immediate Personality of Christ, and the Jesuits, remain 
parallel influences, checking each the other, while Hobbes 
and Crashaw develop yet other sides of his rich personality. 
With philosophy and poetry, the love of Mary Collet (a 
very Beatrice, at Gidding, to this dreamier Dante) models 
his soul more even than does downright war undertaken for 
King Charles ; though the secret service, loyally rendered, 
and cruelly repaid by the king's denial of his messenger, 
strengthens profoundly Inglesant's spiritual detachment. 
Prison and imminent death and, above all, the assassination 
of his brother Eustace, seem to complete his " purification " : 
and in Paris he meets Mary Collet once more, but now a 
nun. Two paths, therefore, are placed before him — that of 
the soul crucified with Jesus amid the splendours of all 
pagan and Christian culture, and this the Jesuits preach ; 
and that of simple self-surrender to the personal charm 
of Jesus, who should be followed in the desert, away from 
court or university, or political intrigue : Serenus de 
Cressy, the Benedictine, offers him this privilege. He turns 
from the monk, sorrowful amid his great possessions. 
Plato still, it seemed, should partly govern him ; but still, 
and far more certainly, Christ loved the young man. 

This servant of the Jesuits went on to Italy and 
Rome, with the fixed idea of vengeance on his brother's 
murderer more vivid, now, in his mind than ever. At 
Florence he meets Lauretta di Visalvo, his destined 
wife ; but first he must conquer in her regard that 
earthliness of passion which imperils yet further his 
ever more clouded ideal. In the wan light of the dawn 
he renounces the promised ecstasy of sin; and though 

AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 71 

you are left doubtful what precisely within him won 
that victory (for that a temptation fostered by passionate 
moonlight should wane when the cold grey morning 
blanches away the mystery of things, need mean no 
triumph carried off by or within the soul), at least it is 
clear that John had thus, at any rate, renounced two 
earthly great rewards, once for his king, and now, if 
not for God, at least for his spiritual concept of what 
Love should be. That scene in the midnight hut is 
unsurpassed for lofty human emotion ; for mystical 
enchantment, the third renunciation, where John forgives 
his brother's murderer, Malvolti, whom he at last 
encounters, is supreme.^ 

When Benson says that John Inglesant influenced him, 
he does not merely mean that it vitalised for him the 
Caroline period of English history, even of English 
ecclesiastical Church history, still less that his description 
of the suppressed monasteries in The King's Achievement 
is very reminiscent of that at Westacre, and Ralph's 
loyalty to Cromwell in the same book, of John's fidelity 
to the faithless Charles II ; nor even that the triple 
temptation, successfully encountered by Roger, which 
we read of in Oddsfish (a book first written at Rome, 
before his ordination, and directly under the spell of 
John Inglesant) is again reminiscent of Shorthouse's 
psychic series. Nor does he even perceive in the 
Quaker's sympathetic delineation of Molinos, the source 
of much of that orthodox Quietism he himself developed. 
Nor, of course, is the interweaving of the preternatural, 
and indeed of the elfish and bizarre, with the realistic, 
what most of all attracted him in John Inglesant. Even 

^ In this episode Shorthouse models himself with great exactness on the story 
of San Giovanni Gualberto. 


the creation of the Hare Street colony, so to call it, 
realising as it did a dream first conceived after studying 
the exquisite interlude of Little Gidding and never 
allowed to fade, was not the chief result of the absolute 
passion Benson conceived for that romance. 

To begin with, its revelation of the Personality of 
Jesus Christ came to him literally like the tearing of 
veils and the call of a loud trumpet, and a leaning 
forth of the Son of God to touch him. The veils swung 
back again, and silence was soon once more to swaddle 
his soul into inertia; but virtue had gone forth, and 
without his realising it, his life would appear to have been 
poised around a new axis ; its centre of gravity was 
shifted; or, if you will, the notion of the dominancy of 
Jesus, having sunk into his subconsciousness, worked 
there in silence until in due time it revealed its adult 
significance. Flashed upon John during the Com- 
munion service at Little Gidding, the full blaze of 
revelation shone out for him when the blinded Malvolti, 
now a friar, told Inglesant of the spiritual vision which 
had reached him. 

Since this was one of those pages which Hugh learnt 
and kept by heart, as having substantially altered him, I 
quote it without apology. 

(The murderer of Eustace, you may remember, was 
sitting on the Capitol and, in imagination, seeing 
the whole of Rome, its churches, its worshippers, its 

" ' Suddenly it seemed to me that I was conscious of a 
general movement and rush of feet, and that a strange 
and wild excitement prevailed in every region of Rome. 
The churches became empty, the people pouring out 
into the streets ; the dead Christs above the altars faded 

AT WREN'S, 1889-1890 73 

from their cross, and the sacred tapers went out of their 
own accord ; for it spread through Rome, as in a moment, 
that a miracle had happened at the Ara Coeli, and that 
the living Christ was come. From where I stood I could 
see the throngs of people pouring through every street and 
lane, and thronging up to the Campidoglio and the stairs ; 
and from the distance in the pale Campagna, from St. 
Paolo without the walls, and from subterranean Rome, 
where the martyrs and confessors lie, I could see strange 
and mystic shapes come sweeping in through the brilliant 

" ' He came down the steps of the Ara Coeli, and the 
sky was full of starlike forms, wonderful and gracious ; 
and all the steps of the Capitol were full of those people 
down to the square of the Ara Coeli, and up to the statue 
of Aurelius on horseback above; and the summit of the 
Capitol among the statues, and the leads of the Palace 
Caffarelli, were full of eager forms ; for the starlight was 
so clear that all might see ; and the dead gods, and the 
fauns, and the satyrs, and the old pagans, that lurked in 
the secret hiding-places of the ruins of the Caesars, 
crowded up the steps out of the Forum, and came round 
the outskirts of the crowd, and stood on the Forum pillars 
that they might see. And Castor and Pollux, that stood 
by their unsaddled horses at the top of the stairs, left 
them unheeded and came to see ; and the Marsyas who 
stood bound broke his bonds and came to see ; and 
spectral forms swept in from the distance in the light, 
and the air was full of Powers and Existences, and the 
earth rocked as at the Judgment Day. 

"'He came down the steps into the Campidoglio, and 
He came to me. He was not at all like the pictures of 
the Saints ; for He was pale, and worn and thin, as though 


the fight was not yet half over — ah no ! — but through this 
pale and worn look shone infinite power, and undying 
love, and unquenchable resolve. The crowd fell back on 
every side, but when He came to me He stopped. ' Ah ! ' 
He said, 'is it thou? What doest thou here? Knowest 
thou not that thou art Mine ? Thrice Mine — Mine centuries 
ago when I hung upon the Cross on Calvary for such as 
thou — Mine years ago, when thou camest a little child to 
the font — Mine once again, when, forfeit by every law, 
thou wast given over to Me by one who is a servant and 
friend of Mine. Surely, I will repay.' As He spoke, a 
shudder and a trembling ran through the crowd, as if 
stirred by the breath of His voice. Nature seemed to rally 
and to grow beneath Him, and Heaven to bend down to 
touch the earth. A healing sense of health and comfort, 
like the gentle dew, visited the weary heart. A great cry 
and shout arose from the crowd, and He passed on ; but 
among ten thousand times ten thousand I should know 
Him, and amid the tumult of a universe I should hear 
the faintest whisper of His voice.' " 

Upon this apparition in Hugh's life of a new trans- 
forming force we will make no comment, content with 
having registered it. Of a different character, but as 
important on its plane, was the conclusion reached by 
Inglesant in his travel of religious exploration. He was 
led to it, as a matter of fact, through the Platonism by 
which he had been encountered from childhood up — in its 
more pious forms with the Rosicrucian vicar of Ashley, 
in its more strictly intellectual, but also practical, aspect 
with St. Clare, and in its artistic and worldly and Re- 
naissance presentation with the Cardinal at Rome, John's 
conversations with whom are, philosophically speaking, 
among the quite most fascinating pages of the book. Now 

AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 js 

Platonism as Platonism made no sort of scholarly appeal 
to Hugh Benson : but its central and unchanging dogma 
was, the immersion of the Idea in matter, the shivering 
of the One into many, the expression of the Immutable 
Reality in shifting finite forms, illusory and dreamlike all 
of them ; the reflection, finally, of the Absolute by the 
relative. Thus both John's Christianity and his Platonism 
conspired to make him see the world as itself something 
of a Sacrament — better, even, than the veiled Tabernacle, 
where the Godhead lurked within — in which the Ultimate 
God immediately conveyed and concealed Himself ; not 
a veil merely, to hide the Ubiquitous, but a robe making 
visible the Unseen. Now both to Inglesant and to Hugh 
Benson the question propounded itself. How, in this 
world of mystery, where words belie the thought, and 
thought itself betrays the Word it would translate, can I 
know what the "true truth" is ? Inglesant confessed that 
Christianity, having brought "sublimest Platonism down 
to the humblest understanding," had thereby been forced 
to reduce "its spiritual and abstract truth to hard and 
inadequate dogma." If, then, you cannot accept the 
dogma, acknowledge, he proclaimed, that "Absolute 
Truth is not revealed at all." Either Rome is right, or, 
whatever else of a theory may be devised, it must start 
from this, the non-revelation of final and universal Truth. 
** There is only one answer to the Papist argument — 
Absolute Truth is not revealed." Are we, then, to resign 
ourselves to pure Agnosticism ? Is our soul to be for ever 
tormented by the surmise that the Light reaches it so 
broken, refracted, tinted, that perhaps this very light is 
darkness ? No, urges Inglesant ; within the soul is a 
fons vert lucidus ; " in Thy light shall we see light " ; the 
conscience can test, in my individual soul's case at least, 


the value of what I seem to see. The Kingdom of God 
within me shall echo its Emperor's voice, reaching it from 
outside, if indeed it be His voice. . . . Benson, without 
knowing it, was already rejecting this spiritual individual- 
ism. The dilemma was already dimly presenting itself 
to him as it did to Inglesant. Either an Infallible 
Authority, speaking unmistakably in the ears of the 
multitude, or the guidance of the conscience, which, left 
to itself, means no more nor less than agnosticism with 
regard to the universal issues. He too was accepting the 
world and the Church as sacramental ; and he was re- 
fusing to regard the veils and vestures of their Inhabitant 
as mere illusion, and to be discarded, because mere veils 
and vestures ; rather they were elevated to His plane and 
quality, and of indescribably high import, because they 
were His. 

Inglesant, after expounding his philosophy, sits brood- 
ing over Worcester bathed in sunset. 

"The sun, which was just setting behind the distant 
hills, shone with dazzling splendour for a moment upon 
the towers and spires of the city across the placid water. 
Behind this fair vision were dark rain-clouds, before which 
gloomy background it stood in fairy radiance and light. 
For a moment it seemed a glorious city bathed in life 
and hope, full of happy people who thronged its streets 
and bridge and the margin of its gentle stream. But it 
was breve gaudium. Then the sunset faded, and the 
ethereal vision vanished, and the landscape lay dark and 

"'The sun is set,' Mr. Inglesant said cheerfully, 'but 
it will rise again. Let us go home. ' " 

Here was a symbol for Benson. He sought a sun 
which should not set, and a City on a hill which might 

AT WREN'S, 1 889-1 890 77 

never disappear. Plato's Republic was an "ensample in 
the sky," the attainment of which might be hazarded by a 
few, and achieved by fewer still. Hugh would demand 
that the Word should be made flesh and pitch His tent 
for evermore amongst us ; and that, having taken human 
nature. He should never again, in any human relationship, 
lay it aside. But both these spiritual experiences, of 
the Personality of Jesus, and of the need of His living, 
infallible voice, speaking Truth in a visionary world, 
took place in, or disappeared at once into, the deeper 
places of his consciousness ; and, for a while, you might 
have thought nothing had happened to him at all. 

Yet I seem to see, in this else sterile year in London, 
the sowing of a seed destined to grow into a tree where 
his whole life will take shelter. Or rather, here is conceived 
that life itself, to remain unborn yet for a long period. 


A peine dixhuit printemps ont-ils epanoui nos annees, que nous souffrons 
de d^sirs qui n'ont pour objet ni la chair, ni I'amour, ni la gloire, ni rien qui 
ait une forme ou un nom. Le jeune homme se sent oppress^ d'aspirations sans 
but : il s'eloigne des r^alit^s de la vie comme d'une prison ou le coeur dtoufife. 


Hugh Benson went up to Cambridge in the October of 
1890 under very happy auspices. Not only he found, at 
Trinity, a large circle of Eton acquaintances, but his 
father and elder brother and more than one of his uncles 
had been there before him, and it may be said without 
exaggeration that his lot had fallen to him in a ground 
exceptionally fair. 

Not that the immediate setting in which he found 
himself was in the least attractive. The name of Trinity 
is by most associated with its enormous court, irregular in 
shape and ornament, with its chapel to the right, its 
canopied fountain perennially pouring slender streams in 
the midst of the wide pavements, its heavy arches to right 
and left, and its superb gateway. But Trinity, having 
outgrown itself, overleaps the road, and there is a melan- 
choly building to the east containing Whewell's Court, 
where Hugh had rooms. The rooms are in the angle, 
and their windows give upon All Saints Passage and 
Bridge Street respectively, gloomy windows, high up, 
splashed with mud, and, in the interests of conversation, 
kept for the most part closed. From time to time the bad 

lighting depressed Hugh, and perhaps he had no heart, as 



well as too undeveloped a taste, to trouble about furnish- 
ing his rooms fastidiously. 

Professor R. Bosanquet, now of Liverpool, whose 
assistance has been of great value to me in the forma- 
tion of my mental picture of Hugh during these years, 
had rooms near his in Whewell's Court, and renewed a 
friendship inaugurated at Eton the more easily because 
Hugh, already installed, put his rooms at his friend's dis- 
posal until his own effects should be arranged. Hugh 
struck Mr. Bosanquet as being much developed and older 
for the months spent in travel and at Wren's since he 
left Eton ; " though to the end his face and manner were 
those of an impulsive boy." Hugh was still full of his 
experiences in Switzerland, and was by now winning his 
friends' attention by his delightful powers of conversation, 
a special charm he will never lose, but which had remained 
latent, I need not say, at Eton, though even there a certain 
volubility and a flexibility of expression belied the orthodox 
reticence and the mask. Traces, however, of shyness still 
remained, and only with his more intimate friends would 
he discuss, with infectious humour, the varied types and 
characters to be met in a large College. Already he loved 
to make acquaintances whom he might study, and he led 
them on, in conversation, to the revealing of some chink 
in their conventional armour through which his quick 
imagination might pierce beneath the surface. Nor were 
his investigations confined to Trinity. By great good 
fortune he found doors open to him at King's, where his 
brother, Mr. E. F. Benson, lived in a circle where both 
dons and undergraduates joined in an intimacy then per- 
haps less usual than it seems to-day. There were two 
societies in particular of which Hugh soon found himself 
a member : one was a King's and Trinity literary society 


called the Chit-chat, of which I find no records ; * the other 
was rather more artistic in tendency, and was called the 
T.A.F. because it met Twice A Fortnight — in fact, each 
Sunday evening.^ Its meetings were inaugurated by certain 
venerable gaieties. The host, Prof. Bosanquet assures me, 

"was expected to provide certain traditional cold dishes 
and a reasonable quantity of hock, and it was an agree- 
able custom that the guests on their arrival should view 
the table with melancholy faces and murmur audibly that 
there seemed to be nothing to eat. Some of the party 
were excellent actors, and much of the chaff that went 
on through supper was conducted in the assumed voices 
of certain well-known characters. Afterwards we ad- 
journed to one of the larger sets of rooms in Fellows' 
Buildings, as often as not M. R. James's,^ where there was 
music and more serious talk, frequently of French cathe- 
drals, illuminated manuscripts, the lives of obscure saints 
and other mediaeval lore. In those years Mr. James was 
full of the reconstruction of the library and church of 
the Monastery of St. Edmund at Bury, an intricate piece 
of research which he published in 1895, and I have no 
doubt that the talks in which he sketched the life of that 
great House, familiar to him from boyhood, furnished 
some of the colour which Hugh was to use so skilfully 
when he came to write of the mediaeval Church." * 

Other men of note then at King's beside Mr. Montague 
James, were Marcus Dimsdale, Walter Headlam, and for 
a time J. K. Stephen, whose unforgettably brilliant career, 
with its melancholy close, is sympathetically traced by 
Mr. A. C. Benson in The Leaves of the Tree. 

^ Mr, A. C. Benson, indeed, thinks that this society, from which the 
" Apostles " were largely recruited, was then extinct. It is said to have been 
highly stimulating. Absolute candour was exacted of all who spoke at it. 

* This society occurs in Mr. E. F. Benson's story, The Babe B.A. I will 
leave ingenious readers to surmise what traits Hugh Benson supplied to that 
composite photograph. Or shall I mention one . . . ? The Babe could cause a 
carved piece of orange peel to display, with hideous accuracy, certain episodes 
proper to a Channel crossing. So could Hugh. 

* Now Provost * Probably not least in The King's Achievement. 


At the suggestion of one of the editors, an Etonian, 
Hugh began to write in the Trident, a Trinity magazine, and 
already, in December 1890, produced a poem there, " From 
the Heights," an ordinary piece of versification, and rather 
melancholy. Death, memory, tears, and sunset were 
the topics of this composition, which was far surpassed 
in the June of 1891 by "De Profundis," the quite pathetic 
soliloquy of a dog left chained by his master to the rail- 
ings of the Pitt Club, at the mercy of the weather and 
of the messengers who waited there. Much rain, many 
kicks, hope long deferred, could not quench the terrier's 
love for the godlike youth who spent heedless hours 
inside, and rewarded patience with a pat.* He wrote a 
little, too, in the Cambridge Review, reviews of books, for 
instance, notably of his brother Fred's first novel, Dodo, 
though this did not appear till 1893, and created a sucds 
de surprise, not least among those who realised how much 
the circumstances of its writing (it was composed at 
Cambridge and on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth, in 
the interstices of time left by the elaboration of a disserta- 
tion) gave it the character of a literary tour de force as 
well as of a social bomb. 

Hugh, on returning after one vacation, announced that 
he had read Dodo in MS. He was asked what he thought 
of it. " Well," he replied, " it's very wo-wo-wo-worldly ! " 

Hugh wrote, too, a long poem in blank verse called 
"Thor's Hammer," which appeared in the Leisure Hour, 

^ In College, where dogs were forbidden, Hugh was one of the few who kept 
a cat, which, Mr. Marshall says, he called a kitten. The criticism that it was 
responsible for a certain haunting aroma, he met by flatly denying the alleged 
fact. Later on, he exclaims in a letter to a friend : " Cats I respect deeply, 
and have loved several : a white one with a sandy tail and an abscess in its 
ear ; an ash-coloured Persian with orange eyes and hairy ears and toes ; " and 
actually wrote to a sick penitent : " I am so sorry about the pain you are 
suffering, but am delighted that the cat is a bright spot." See Vol. II, p. 148. 

I F 


and another poem called " Iduna," which I cannot find. 
Tennyson, I should say, influenced their style; a story 
written in conjunction with his sister, which earned him 
£t, IDS., in February 1891, from the Monthly Packet will 
have been more original. 

More than this, he wrote a satiric poem, in the style 
of Pope, entitled, "A Scandal in High Life," dealing with 
some undergraduate freak of insubordination. The men 
involved were youths of destined importance in their 
country, and resented the sarcasm. Inquiry failed, how- 
ever, to discover the author. 

He and Mr. Marshall shared their literary ambitions, 

or rather, thought that it would be nice to write stories 
and get money for them. We did write a joint one, and 
I have the manuscript somewhere still. It was a very 
poor story, but contained a few gleams of observation. It 
must have been a year or so after this that Hugh finished 
a novel, and it was a very bad novel, ending up with the 
violent death of all the chief characters. I said that this 
scene was not led up to in any way, and therefore missed 
fire. Hugh said that it was a very effective scene, and 
therefore couldn't miss fire. But the novel was never 
published. Looking back, it seems to me that both of us 
showed exceptionally small promise in those days of ever 
doing anything with fiction. I think that Hugh's first im- 
pulse came from the necessity that it was for him always 
to be doing something with a pen. Later on, he plunged 
deeply into life, and his craftsmanship fitted itself to his 

Already, however, an ingenious story-teller (he always 
recast the plots of the books he read), he used to beguile 
long walks by a system which he will still make use of 
when in Rome. He would start a story, develop it with 
extreme rapidity for a certain number of minutes, break 
off abruptly, and leave his companion to continue it. He 

* Ike Cornhill Magazine, Feb. 191 5. 


loved, moreover, improvised acting, though he never 
played a part more serious than that of a member of the 
chorus in the Ion of Euripides.^ Mr. A. C. Benson says 
that he was a keen debater (the debating club was 
called the Decemviri), but I cannot find his name down 
as speaking (and only once, I think, as present) at the 
College debates, in so far, at least, as I have found their 
records, for these years, in the Trident. Not that this 
implied, as you may well imagine, that he was slack in 
the defence of his own view. But even then, his debates 
tended ever towards the intolerant ; the rival argument 
must be interrupted; the thesis must be started from a 

" I can see him," writes Mr. Ronald Norman, a close 
friend of Hugh's, "in his rooms in the Great Court at 
Trinity, plucking ceaselessly at his chin with fingers 
stained with (too much) cigarette-smoking, as he strove 
with his stammer to break into an argument which was 
going against his views, and now and then exploding into 
a short laugh." 

As for athletics, "he steered the third Trinity boat 
all the time he was at Cambridge, and was a member of 
the Leander Club, and displayed no symptoms of nerves." 
At golf, other freshmen found him to be an expert. He 
played for some time regularly on the Coldham Common, 
railed furiously at the background of drab brick houses 
which made it impossible, he urged, to play golf in the 
proper spirit. . . . Not just the game, it will be surmised, 
was paramount in this artist's unconcentrated thought. 
Still, golf had a value wider than itself. 

" Allow me to congratulate you," a friend wrote in May 
1891, "on the fact that you have at last succeeded in 

* It was in 1892 that he played the r61e of a retired tradesman's daughter in 
a charade, Covmtry, of which quaint drawings still remain in a little note-book. 


addressing a letter to me quite correctly — no mean achieve- 
ment for an erratic-minded literary man ! Secondly, allow 
me to congratulate you on the fact that your latest craze 
is a healthy and sporting one, which has my sympathies 
more than mesmerising." 

Of this latter pursuit I speak more at length below. 
Besides this, we hear that in the summer of 1892 he was 
much on the Upper River, an inexhaustibly talkative 
companion in long canoe expeditions, and a furious and 
rather reckless performer in a variety of water polo then 
popular at Trinity, which was played in canoes, and 
always ended in the whole of both teams being upset 
into the water. 

In this connection there is little else to mention save 
his love of walking, which led him quite far afield — to 
Ely, for instance, and Saffron Walden. His brother has 
related 1 how he and Hugh, one winter, went for a walk- 
ing tour in Yorkshire, in pursuit of the " origins " of the 
Benson family. They went from Pately Bridge by way 
of Ripon, Bolton Abbey, and Ripley to York, "the 
thermometer falling lower and lower every day in 
sympathy with (their) researches." For though they 
traced their family tree back to the fourteenth century, 
they considered the earlier estate of their ancestors too 
undistinguished to provoke enthusiasm. However, Hugh 
wrote to his father at considerable length on the subject. 
He would climb, too, with his brothers, in Switzerland, 
and was found by them to be "agile, quick, sure-footed, 
and entirely intrepid." A really serious accident was 
experienced by them near Pontresina, without a single 
member of the party having broken the silence by so 
much as an exclamation . . . and once, on the Piz Palu 

^ In Hugh, p. 62. 


in the Engadine, Hugh's heart suffered a sharp attack 
after a long cHmb from midnight to 8 o'clock. Reduced 
as he was by training in order to steer his boat at 
Cambridge, he did not revive when dosed with brandy, 
and his brother believed him dead. To all appearances 
unconscious, his soul was in reality perfectly aware. He 
thought himself, no doubt, dying, and speculated on 
what phenomenon of the supernatural would first meet 
his gaze. The snowy peaks suggested the Great White 
Throne. . . . Yet neither fear nor hope, nor other 
emotion, kindled his soul. He assigns this, in his 
Confessions, to the general atrophy of his religious sense 
at that time. I doubt this explanation. In most cases 
where the senses have been numbed, but consciousness 
of some deep sort has survived, the patient, on recovery, 
speaks of the lack of interest with which he has con- 
templated the events occurring to or round his person, 
and the seemingly alien character assumed by his body, 
and even by his more superficially spiritual faculties. 
This apparent disintegration of the personality and loss 
of interest in one of its parts by the other, does not seem 
connected with modes of previous behaviour. 

His walking efforts culminated in a tramp which he 
attempted from Cambridge to London. Its incidents 
were sufficiently characteristic to warrant my quoting at 
some length from a letter of Professor Bosanquet, his 
companion : 

About this time some of our friends revived what had 
once been a common practice, and walked up to London. 
I was somewhat surprised when Hugh told me, one day 
towards the end of the term, that he intended to do the 
same, and named a day. I knew that he was good for 
twenty miles, but this was a matter of fifty or more, and 
the time was too short for training. Some one else was 


to have gone with him, but the arrangement fell through, 
and almost at the last moment I agreed to go with him 
and stay the night at Lambeth, though I doubted whether 
either of us could stay the distance. He was tremendously 
in earnest, and I think excitement kept him awake most 
of the previous night. I remember his keen enjoyment 
of the early breakfast, which we cooked ourselves, and his 
confidence, which no warnings could shake, in a pair of 
Alpine boots by a noted maker, which were to carry him 
in triumph to Lambeth. We were off at five, had a 
second breakfast at Royston, and all went well until we 
halted for lunch in a village whose name I have long for- 
gotten. I can still see the sanded tap-room where Hugh 
removed one of his boots and disclosed a galled heel, and 
the elderly tramp, our fellow-guest, who prescribed a pad 
of brown paper and fitted it himself. The Alpine boots 
were our undoing. After another two hours Hugh was 
going really lame, but it never occurred to him to give in. 
Somewhere south of Ware I persuaded him to take my 
arm, and he stumped along, still perfectly cheerful, buoyed 
up by the increasing number of houses and gas lamps 
which deceitfully suggested that we were nearing the out- 
skirts of London. We were only at the tip of one of those 
tentacle suburbs which fringe the main roads for many 
miles before real town begins. The pace became slower, 
and I had to get him some brandy, and then decided that 
if he attempted more he might make himself really ill. 
Beaten in body, but still unbroken in spirit, he was per- 
suaded to get into the train at a station called Ponders 
End, and slept all the way to Liverpool Street. We had 
sent our bags on to Lambeth, and had a very kind welcome 
when we arrived there late at night. Hugh was able to 
dissemble his lameness, and the Archbishop's principal 
concern was for the levity with which we had passed a 
series of interesting churches without pausing to study 
their architecture. His surprise is recorded in his pub- 
lished diary. 

That was the first of several visits which showed me 
something of the bracing atmosphere in which Hugh had 
grown up. 

Neither the climbing nor the tramp to London were for- 
gotten by Hugh Benson, or left unused, when he began 
to draw upon his experience for his work. The Alpine 


scenery, observed, so to say, from above, is introduced 
with superb realism into The Lord of the World, and the 
mechanical technicalities, no less than the more psycho- 
logical concomitants of a climb, into the Coward. As for 
the tramp, it is worked, with much accuracy of detail, into 
the novel, which introduces, too, no little of Cambridge 
background, and even of Trinity itself. None Other Gods. 
There it is Guiseley who takes to the unaccustomed road, 
and it is Guiseley's foot that suffers ; and the suffering 
is as magnified as the tramp. 

Hugh was led to King's by yet another influence. He 
resented strongly the lack of music upon most week-days 
in Trinity, having been used for years to the inspiring 
daily service of Eton. It is true that he enjoyed to the 
full what he called " square shouting hymns," sung by the 
whole congregation ; but he appreciated already a better 
music, and in most of his letters to the Archbishop occurs 
the name of the anthem he last had heard. With Mr. 
Crabtree, now of Sunningdale, one of the very few among 
his earlier acquaintances with whom I can discover Hugh 
to have kept up any kind of correspondence, he used to 
spend much time in various organ lofts, at Cambridge, 
or at Lambeth. Hugh even travelled after music as far 
as Ely. His performances were not wonderful, but they 
witnessed to a remarkable natural instinct, as I shall 
indicate below. When, after the lapse of many years, Mr. 
Crabtree called on Hugh at Hare Street, he was at first 
taken for the tax-collector. Hugh, when he recognised 
his identity, became charming, and for the last time 
the friends played together on Hugh's little American 
organ. But, rather as his golf suffered from unkind sur- 
roundings, so did his music. The chapel at Trinity was 
decorated at an unfortunate moment, and he fled from 


its heavy gilded carvings to the soaring architecture of 
King's. Eton had been but a preHminary hint of all this 
splendour. Even so, he needed a touch of the dramatic. 
In the evening, the ante-chapel, where he sat, was almost 
wholly dark, and the great loft and organ were silhouetted 
against the radiance streaming upward from the choir. 
From this side and from that, processions entered, meeting 
in the middle. Doors opened and then shut ; curtains 
were drawn ; the white-robed ministers had passed into 
the unseen melodious " Paradise," and Hugh remained 
ecstatically in the dark. Trained by Lis Escop, Lambeth, 
Eton, and King's, he will never quite tolerate a roodless 
chapel, and in the tiny shrine at Hare Street, he will re- 
establish the division ; only there, it will be he who will 
kneel, half seen, inside the rood. 

A visit made by him to Bayreuth, some months later 
on, is instructive here. He was asked by some friends to 
accompany them to a Wagner festival there, and wrote 
enthusiastically to thank his father for allowing him to 
accept : 

I am so very grateful to you for allowing me to go to 
Bayreuth and for your long letter — I shall enjoy the opera 
most enormously — in its literal sense — I have never yet 
heard one.^ 

He arrived after a fatiguing journey, of which crude 
reminiscences survive in his sketch-book, and went straight 
that afternoon to Parsifal? But what remains with him 

^ From more than this one instance I gather that the Archbishop, to whom 
Hugh wrote letters of a somewhat propitiatory character, had been fond of 
insisting on the exact etymological value of the word enormous. 

* If he kept to his original programme of hearing five operas only, he can 
never have assisted at the Ring, at anyrate in its entirety ; for he certainly heard 
Tannhduser and the Meisiersinger, and perhaps (since he chooses them for 
description in Loneliness) Tristan and Lohengrin. 


of this opera (the only one he dwells on in his letters), is 
in the main an ecclesiastical stage eifect.i 

"We arrived here yesterday," he wrote to his father, 
"and went to Parsifal in the afternoon. I have never 
been so moved by music in all my life — it was absolutely 
glorious. Do you know the story ? In the last act all comes 
right, and there is a final ' Love Feast ' of the knights. 
Parsifal lifts the Grail and the Spear, which grow redder 
and redder, and all the knights hide their heads while the 
Dove descends from the dome, where one hears a choir 
singing the Grail Motive, the Dresden Amen. I have 
never seen anything like it in all my life — it is really the 
most magnificent thing I have ever seen. I am so very 
grateful to you for letting me go." 

To Professor Bosanquet he writes in almost identical 
words, and then proceeds : 

The heat at this place is something more frantic than 
you can have any conception of. One regularly has two 
cold baths every day — one in the morning and one before 
the opera, besides a permanent hot bath all the time. The 

S s are most delightful people to travel with, with 

proper ideas of comfort — such as sitting in about one 

farment and a half and smoking all the time, also many 
ibbings of iced liquor and large meals under awnings — 
at all hours of the day. 

We stayed at Ratisbon on Sunday last and went to 
the Cathedral there — gorgeous ^ Gregorian services and 

I must stop — the charred pen is falling from limp 
fingers, and I am sitting with my feet in warm water, part 
of myself. — Ever yours, Hugh Benson. 

Whether he became, ultimately, at home in the tumul- 
tuous universe of Wagner, we may perhaps have an 
opportunity of judging later on. 

^ I am interested to find, after writing this, that he declared, quite late in 
life, that he could make nothing of Parsifal: as music, it was quite " above " him. 

^ "Gorgeous," a correspondent of that date has written to me, "was a 
favourite word of his." 


Music lifted him above mere matter. Quite early in his 
Cambridge career he turned with zest to spiritualism, still, 
however, more as a sport than out of any real psychical 

'< In his early undergraduate days," a close friend of 
his has written to me, "he got two rustics into his rooms 
and proceeded to hypnotise them one after the other, 
telling each in turn before he was roused that he was not 
to remember what had happened ; and he afterwards 
thoroughly enjoyed the laugh each had at the other. 
But the matter came, I believe, to the ears of the 
authorities, who prohibited the further indulgence in this 
taste. I recollect that once in the Long, when he was going 
off after Hall one night with three others to * read ' in the 
rooms of one (I am afraid on most occasions the reading 
did not last very long), the conversation happened to turn 
on crystal-gazing, and nothing would satisfy him but 
that we should all four stand in different corners of the 
room gazing into a glass of water (the nearest approach 
to a crystal that could be improvised) until, greatly to Hugh's 
disgust, a loud laugh from one of the party put an end to 
the performance. I also recollect one afternoon in a May 
week his insisting, after lunch in his room, on darkening 
the room and our sitting with our hands on the table 
waiting developments, and his indignation when the in- 
evitable happened, and some of us set to work to get the 
table going." 

" I was present," writes Professor Bosanquet, " at one 
of these thought-reading performances ; so far as I can 
remember, half a dozen of us in one room were told to 
focus our thoughts on the weather-cock of the University 
Church, and after a time the medium, in the next room, 
was aware of a cow perched on a steeple. He read some 
of the older magical literature and was interested in 
Dr. Dee, an early fellow of the College ; but I cannot be 
sure whether an article on Dee's occult experiences, which 
appeared in the Trident, the College magazine, for December 
1891, was Hugh's own work or some one else's." ^ 

* I gather it was not Hugh's. 


He told his mother about this, and she of her greater 

experience earnestly dissuaded him from making further 

practical experiments : 

Lambeth Palace, 
Feb. 17, 1891. 

Oh, please don't go playing tricks with hypnotism. 
(And I said Oh, please !) It is a deadly thing, and ought, 
I am sure, to be taken up scientifically or not at all. And 
for goodness gracious sake, not now, when your work is 
so important. It is very exhausting — I know this in so 
many ways. Tries nerves and exhausts brain. Do leave it 
alone for the present. It's quite a question of " afterwards " 
and as much eye-winking as ever you can do. 

Lambeth Palace, 
March 20, 1 89 1. 

About mesmerism. ... I still feel strongly that at pre- 
sent it isn't the time for you to follow out a subject so 
engrossing as one of this kind is — and I shouldn't feel 
happy at your doing it without talking it out with your 
father. . . . 

It would be difficult to deny that there was a touch at 
least of morbidity in his instinct for the occult. 

It is in a letter to his father that we first find the casual 
mention, inserted between quite alien topics, of an event 
which left a practical effect on his stay at Cambridge. 

June I. 

I am getting on well in my work, I think — Dr. Verrall 
tells me I am making progress. I am reading the De Corond 
with my Coach — I do not find it so hard as I expected. 

An awful thing happened in Trinity last night — a man 
shot himself, apparently from overwork at night, and was 
found dead yesterday morning by some one whom he had 
asked to breakfast. 

To convince his father, perhaps, that he was not 
morbidly affected by this event, he added some sentences 
on everyday topics, so callous-sounding that I omit them. 
He was not callous, but, certainly, unawakened ; and when 
no one would take the suicide's rooms, which were in 
Bishop's Hostel, again outside Great Court, Hugh im- 


mediately applied for them, to the anger of several of 
his friends, and slept for some time in a room where a 
bloodstain marked the boards and a bullet had pierced the 
panel. He sincerely hoped to enter into some sort of com- 
munication with the soul who there had made the tremen- 
dous choice, and had preferred to have done with life. 

By 1893 his interest in the less trodden among spiritual 
paths has passed from occultism to mysticism, and he was 
plunged in Swedenborg. 

He informed his father of this new interest, and the 
Archbishop, with true respect of freedom, tolerated and 
even furthered it. 

" I have been reading," Hugh wrote, " some more of 
Swedenborg's books. A great deal of them is extraordinarily 
clever ; but one of the things that I cannot believe is that 
he denies the immortality of animals." 

The Archbishop lent him two books on Swedenborg, 
which he handed on to his sister Maggie — Hugh was at 
this time ill, and not allowed to get up, and excuses his 
"extraordinarily dull and short" letter by the fact that 
he has " nothing to describe or write about." 

All these pursuits, however, were merely incidental to, 
or at best by-products of his way of life. To begin with, 
indeed, it looked as if that life were to be even less purpose- 
ful than that of Eton. True, he was observed to "walk 
fast " and " always to look busy " ; but when his brother 
asked him what he did in that dark room in Whewell's 
Court, he answered, " Heaven knows ! As far as I can 
remember, I mostly sat up late at night and played cards." 
Though it is true that he was never in a gambling set 
properly so called, he spent, Mr. Arthur Benson recalls, 
a good deal of money, and though his allowance was 
generous, a financial crisis concluded his first year, and 


his mother paid his debts. He had entertained a great 
deal, and the Trinity kitchen was, I understand, at that 
time expensive. From time to time, however, he violently 

Too much that is characteristic (I do not say of Hugh 
only) would be lost if I refrained from requoting a letter 
from the Archbishop to his son, already to be found in 
Hugh : 

Addington Park, Croydon, 
26th January 1891. 

Dearest Hughie, — I was rather disturbed to hear 
that you imagined that what I said in October about not 
needlessly indulging was held by you to forbid your having 
a fire in your bedroom on the ground floor in the depth 
of such a winter as we have had ! 

You ought to have a fire lighted at such a season at 
eight o'clock, so as to warm and dry the room and all in it, 
nearly every evening ; and whenever the room seems 
damp, have a fire just lighted to go out when it will. It's 
not wholesome to sleep in heated rooms, but they must 
be dry. A bed slept in every night keeps so, if the room 
is not damp ; but the room must not be damp, and when 
it is unoccupied for two or three days, it is sure to get so. 

Be sure that there is a good fire in it all day, and all 
your bed things, mattress and all, kept well before it for 
at least a whole day before you go back from Uncle Henry's. 

How was it your bed-maker had not your room well 
warmed and dried, mattress dry, &c., before you went up 
this time ? She ought to have had, and should be spoken 
to about it — i.e. unless you told her not to ! in which case it 
would be very like having no breakfast ! 

It has been a horrid interruption in the beginning of 
term — and you'll have difficulty with the loss of time. 
Besides which I have no doubt you have been very 

But I don't understand why you should have " nothing 
to write about " because you have been in bed. Surely 
you must have accumulated all sorts of reflective and 
imaginative stories there. 

It is most kind of Aunt Nora and Uncle Henry — give 
my love and thanks to both. 


I grieve to say that many more fish are found dead 
since the thaw melted the banks of swept snow off the sides 
of the ice. It is most piteous ; the poor things seem to 
have come to the edge where the water is shallowest — 
there is a shoal where we generally feed the swans. 

I am happy to say the goldfish seem all alive and merry. 
The continual dropping of fresh water has no doubt saved 
them — they were never hermetically sealed in like the other 
poor things. 

Yesterday I was at Ringwould, near Dover. The far- 
mers had been up all night saving their cattle in the stalls 
from the sudden floods. 

Here we have not had any, though the earth is washed 
very much from the hills in streaks. 

We are — at least I am — dreadfully sorry to go to London; 
though the house is very dull without " the boys." 

All right about the books. — Ever your loving father, 

Edw. Cantuar. 

The first shock to his easy-going existence occurred 
quite early in his stay at Cambridge. It was the death of 
his elder sister Nellie. It occurred in October 1890, of 
diphtheria ; and Mr. A. C. Benson has written, in a preface 
to her novel. At Sundry Times and in Divers Manners y of 
her communicative personality and her devotion to human 
needs in Lambeth.^ She too, it may be gathered, had that 
readiness for self-oblation so strangely mingled with a 
marked need of literary self-expression which in Hugh 
took its peculiar but very developed form. It may be 
rare that the apostle and the artist are united in one 
personality. Yet this too the Archbishop handed down. 
The last reports from Addington had been good, and thus 
intensified the shock. 

" On Sunday night," Professor Bosanquet wrote to his 
father at the time, " the T.A.F. met in Benson's rooms, 
and both the brothers seemed very cheerful ; then on 

^ The Archbishop also wrote a memoir in her book, Streets and Lanes of 
the City, which was privately primed. 


Monday morning came the telegram, ' much worse,' and I 
walked with Hugh to King's to find his brother, and they 
went, only to find that she had died. I heard from Hugh 
this morning. It is a terrible blow — she was so strong and 
so clever." " When he returned " (he adds), " one saw that 
his world had grown dark. He spoke more freely of his 
family and home life, and revealed a most tender and affec- 
tionate nature. Hard hit as he was, he said that his wound 
was light in comparison with his elders, and spoke especially 
of his brother Arthur — she was nearest to him in age." 

Professor Bosanquet undoubtedly regards Hugh's char- 
acter as having been, if not altered, at least somewhat 
developed by this grave shock. I should like to believe 
that it was so. It would be pleasant to see in Hugh, too, 
something of a Parsifal, dutch Mitleid wissend. Even 
though the first sorrow seems to sink beneath the surface 
of the soul and vanish, yet in the recesses of subconscious- 
ness it survives and is operative.^ It is, however, wholly 
true that Hugh very rarely indeed looked backwards : he 
never brooded; lingering melancholy was ; alien to his 
temperament. Again, too, and again we shall have to 
emphasize that singular layer of hardness which crossed 
his character, which he so often vehemently recognised, 
and which some of his admirers so hotly controvert. 

Be that as it may, about half-way through his time at 
Cambridge, or even earlier, he definitely turned his atten- 
tion from classics to theology in view of possible ordination. 

" It is quite true," he wrote in a letter, unfortunately 
undated, to his elder brother, " about the theology, and I 
feel almost certain that I shall take orders. I think it is a 
thing about which one cannot possibly make up one's mind 
until a comparatively long time has passed, and one is still 
therefore of the same opinion ; but I feel as certain as 
possible so far. 

* Himself, Hugh thought that his mind was perhaps turned by this death 
towards ordination. 


"I like the work far better than the classics, about 
which I was never really keen. I had such an enormous 
quantity of ground to pick up, and it was altogether un- 

" Papa suggested it to me just before I went back to 
Cambridge, but as you know, I had been thinking of it for 
some time previously — for about a year, in fact. ... I have 
no cigarette case, and I think I should like it above every- 

It is quite true that his success in classics was not 
marked. One translation paper of his which survives 
provoked ferocious recriminations : 

" One might fancy," wrote the angry examiner, " you 
had never heard of Tiberius. This is a ver^ bad mistake ; 
you see you do not stop to consider at all kozv your transla- 
tion is to come out of the words. You must be more careful 
if you are to get on." 

Certainly Hugh's slapdash method was peculiarly suited 
to annoy a scholarly-minded professor. 

Still, even when he had shifted his rooms to those in 
the Great Court, he was still working under Dr. Verrall, 
who, if anyone, should have been able to fire the imagina- 
tion, and even the fancifulness, of his pupil had the classics 
ever been destined to mean anything to him. He writes 
to his father, with that odd boylike tone which will cling to 
him in his correspondence with the Archbishop, even after 
he has left the University : 

Dr. Verrall has given me some very nice rooms in the 
Great Court — they are panelled and are on the ground floor 
— Letter I. Facing the Hall. They are on the Lecture 
Room staircase, which is a slight drawback, though not 
nearly as much as I had thought. It makes it entirely 
necessary to keep sported all the morning, as otherwise one 
would be so disturbed by men going to and from Lectures. 
I thanked Dr. Verrall very much for his trouble. 


In October 1891, then, he begins Theology, and is rather 
startled at having to undertake Hebrew ; but proposes to 
" do Hebrew more than anything " that term. He also 
goes to lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, and to 
Professor Gwatkin's on Church History. He enjoys this 
a great deal more than classics, and repeatedly emphasizes 
this point. He also undertakes the Third Book of Eusebius 
and Textual Criticism and New Testament Grammar, and 
his father sends him an Analysis of St. Mark. And in July, 
1892, he is reading Essays upon the Synoptic Gospels, and 
writes : " Might I have the book you said you would lend 
me ? I should be very grateful for it." In his next letter 
he says : " Many thanks also for the book on Roman 
Catholicism, which has arrived ; it is most complete in deal- 
ing with the difficulties of which I spoke to you." 

It is interesting to find that this was Dr. Littledale's 
rather scandalous book called Plain Reasons against Joining 
the Church of Rome, to which at that period those dis- 
turbed in their minds by Roman tendencies were regularly 
treated. It had not yet been realised how grotesque and 
worse many of its pages are. Later, Hugh's life at Mirfield 
was harassed by the duty of constantly refuting its argu- 
ments in order to relieve those of his Anglican penitents 
who found that it struck, not only at the special position of 
Rome, but at all they themselves were determined to con- 
tinue believing and practising, as well as at Dr. Littledale's 
own creed and method. At present Hugh has indeed a 
Roman Catholic for friend, but considers his position 
necessarily absurd. He has another friend, whom he 
regards (perhaps unfairly) as an atheist, who announces 
that if Christ's life be in any way to be believed, Roman 
Catholicism is the only conceivable scheme into which it 

can be fitted. This annoyed, without influencing Hugh. 
\ G 


I think it was to this friend that he stoutly maintained that 
there was no real difference between the intellectual posi- 
tion of an atheist and that of an agnostic. On being 
reminded of this in later years, he will deny that he could 
ever possibly have supported such a theory. 

" I feel great horror," he begins in another letter, " at 
not having written more " ; and continues : " Have you 
read The New Gospel of Peter ? Don't you think it a rather 
feeble idea, that of the necessity of the angels to bring our 
Lord from the tomb ? It throws the energy in the wrong 

" The authorities do not seem to agree as to its 
tendency, docetic or otherwise. Dr. Sinker says it is 
entirely orthodox ; while Montie James says that it is most 
certainly docetic. 

" What is one to say in the Tripos ? " 

Observe, then, the purely ascetical interest he feels in 
what he reads. As for the critical aspect, he leaves it, with 
much sang-froid, to the authorities. All he asks is the 
proper thing to say in the examination. 

Did he feel it necessary to alter his plan of life at all, 
in view of his probable ordination ? I doubt it. It is true 
that he finds that he has hitherto taken no interest in 
the Trinity College Mission, and entertains three of its 
representatives to lunch. Beyond this I find no explicit 
reference to religion in these letters, though one quaint 
paragraph reveals that Rome was not yet exercising 
over his attention more than the spell which is cast by an 
object one dislikes. 

" Great indignation," he writes on July 24, 1893, " pre- 
vails at Cambridge owing to the privileges accorded to 
the Extensionists, to whom the Senate House and the 
Union are thrown open. And there is one further thing — 
in the map of Cambridge printed specially for them, and 
drawn out by an apparently competent committee, the 
Roman Church is marked as the 'Catholic Church,' 


This has been already drawn attention to in the Cam- 
bridge Review — with a rhetorical question as to whether 
this is the kind of learning extended to them — which is 

If it has been suggested that his attitude towards his 
father was one of mainly exterior deference, his treatment 
of the suggestion of a travelling tutorship, to follow his 
going down from Cambridge, seems to modify this. The 
Archbishop did not like the idea, though he would not veto 
it. Hugh writes to Mr. A. C. Benson that when he told 
the Archbishop he would not accept it : 

I think he was pleased. We parted on the very best 
of terms. I am sorry it should have raised such an intense, 
and apparently unreasonable, opposition in those quarters, 
but I think it is all smoothed over. ... As you say, with- 
out his approval the thing would have been disgraceful — 
but it was his approval I was trying to get. I practically 
had his consent from the first, but an unwilling one, and 
I felt that it was not sufficient. 

He made, in consequence, arrangements with Dean 
Vaughan of Llandaff to spend some months with him, 
previous to ordination, from September onwards. 

Only the Tripos itself was left to distract his last days 
at Cambridge. Amusing tales survive of the panic to which 
its approach reduced him. Mr. Crabtree remembers him 
pacing frantically up and down his room, "in an awful 
state because he was only going to get a Third." '* My father, 
all my uncles, all my brothers — all — all — all got Firsts, and 
here am I going to get a Third " ; while Mr. Norman 
remembers a yet earlier stage of despair, when Hugh, 
furious that he was to be '*the only Eton Colleger who 
ever got ploughed," tried by the help of a diet of green tea 
(drunk, and at least once smoked), " to acquire the learning 
of the ages in a few months." 


As a matter of fact, it was a Third which befell him, 
and he forthwith wrote to the Archbishop : 

I cannot say that I am exactly disappointed about 
the Tripos. It is annoying in one way, but in another it 
is satisfactory ; there is a certain grim satisfaction in the 
fact that nineteen people failed to get through, while 
twenty-seven passed. 

The line Hugh Benson was following was that, he 
afterwards came to feel, of least resistance. He certainly 
did not calculate on the help his father's position would 
be to him in a clerical career ; it was natural, however, 
that he, at any rate, should follow his father's "profes- 
sion," and he was not a little drawn by the consciousness 
that he would win his father's highly-prized approval to 
a degree most pleasant to his soul, still somewhat filially 
afraid. Of marriage he loathed the thought, from con- 
genital instinct, unless I err, and perhaps more signifi- 
cantly so than if this abhorrence had been merely the 
result of ascetical speculation. He foresaw as the one 
religious life possible, that of a quiet country clergyman, 
with a beautiful garden, an exquisite choir, and a sober, 
bachelor existence.^ Or so he came to think. At the time, 
he heard echoes of a more positive calling, and confided 
to his mother, one Sunday night in the silent park of 
Addington, on their way home from Evensong, that he 
had answered, "Here am I, send me." A ring, graven 
with these words, and for many years worn by Hugh, 
will perpetuate this impressive experience.^ Even in 1891, 

^ He visited Sundridge Rectory, and decided that that delightful place might 
suit him. " But what I should really like," he exclaimed, " is to be a Cardinal." 

* A year or two later, when he receives it, he will write : " I liked the motto 
extremely— and also very much like the system of writing it inside the ring. 
It is nearer than on the outside." Oddly, he speaks as if the motto seemed to 
him, by now, wholly his mother's choice. 


his father had been praying that Hugh might " hear the 
Calling Voice." 

Therefore Hugh Benson left Cambridge, having 
aroused there his intellect, and struck out into a carefully 
restricted area of experience, but with his heart as yet but 
half-awakened. Impulsive courage, restless curiosity, but 
also ready obedience to the commands which a discreet 
convention, spiritual and temporal, recognised, were his ; 
but not yet any biting self-denial, any really root-tempta- 
tion wrestled with and overcome, nor much shutting of 
the outer eyes for the sake of interior vigilance and true 
spiritual awareness : an apparent ease in the neglect of 
the baser calls of sense, but no profound detachment 
from the feeling of self-sufficiency engendered by culture, 
conscious or unconscious. At best he was putting no 
obstacle to the call to other worlds of ideal and effort ; 
he was moving towards an existence as yet unguessed, 
super-natural, fourth dimensional, food for a sixth sense, 
but always by the path of ordered pieties and decorum 
undefied ; the freaks of life were by him circumscribed, 
and confined to the domains where trivialities may be 
safely given play. His life had, at Cambridge, been 
enriched, but not sated : Ecqiiando amabis ? The good 
he had gained had but made him more capable of recog- 
nising and responding to the summons of a better. 


September 1893-OcTOBER 1896 

Next to a sound rule of faith, there is nothing of so much consequence as a 
sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion ; and it is the peculiar 
happiness of the Church of England to possess, in her authorised formularies, 
an ample and secure provision for both. . . • 

What if our English air be stirred 
With sighs from saintly bosoms heard, 
Or penitents, to leaning angels dear, 
" Our own, our only Mother is not here ? " 

J. Keble : from the Preface to The Christian Yeary 
and Mother out of Sight, 

From Cambridge, then, Hugh went, in September 1893, 
to read for orders under Dean Vaughan at Llandaff. Of 
no period in his life have I found it so difficult to form 
a satisfactory picture. Perhaps that is not astonishing. 
The life itself was rather featureless, its dominant note 
being the personality of the Dean himself. And this, for 
one who never knew him personally, may defy capture, 
even, and still less may be conveyed in written paragraphs. 
But it is quite certain that when Mr. Archibald Marshall, in 
an article on his close friend Hugh Benson, in the Cornhill 
Magazine for February 1915, speaks of his beautiful spirit 
with which, rather than with any stamp of ecclesiastical 
mark, Vaughan impressed his men, he is not yielding to 
sentimental enthusiasm. The great portrait of the Dean, in 
the Vaughan Library at Harrow (he had been Headmaster 
there), does not wholly fail to convey that mingled im- 
pression of sweetness and calm. Benson speaks of his 


" extraordinary charm of personality," and of his " high 
spirituality," of his remarkable preaching — his sermons 
were written out laboriously in an English which was 
"simply perfect, comparable only, I think, to that of 
Ruskin and Newman." There is a hint that his pliable 
and pointed voice, and his special sort of magnetism, 
reached but his more " educated hearers " ; but them it 
affected "like a strain of music." To his serene faith 
and intense love of the Person of Our Lord the most 
dogmatically-minded of his hearers succumbed, and then 
ceased to quarrel with his liberal evangelicism.^ 

As a foil, almost, to the gracious piety and austere 
learning of Dean Vaughan, was to be found his wife, a 
member of the Stanley clan, theologically so alert, ex- 
ploring, and independent ; she was, in fact, a sister of the 
famous Dean. Like Queen Victoria in feature, she was, 
too, witty, versatile to a high degree, and refreshingly 
unconventional. Hugh's dim-tinted, harmless life, as he 
lived it at Llandaff, was flecked with high lights by 
her brilliant presence. Whimsical anecdotes are to be 
found concerning this lady, which it would have been a 
pleasure to transport from their proper setting into the 
memoir of Hugh Benson. 

The " post-graduate theological college " which the Dean 
maintained was on the whole informal, and its life was free. 
The men lived in rooms near the Deanery, and the Dean 
directed their reading rather than controlled details of 

"I find," Hugh wrote immediately upon arrival, " that 
there is a great deal to do here — I have got two sermons to 

^ Dean Vaughan reciprocated Hugh's attachment. " Give the Archbishop," 
he once wrote, " my dutiful love, and thank him for all his kindness, and especi- 
ally for the loan to me of his son — whom I love P "This I record," the Arch- 
bishop adds in his diary, " for dear Hugh's sake." 


preach this term — and a service to take, and several Lessons 
to read ; I have just had a district given me, which I am 
going to begin on to-morrow. I am told by some people 
here that the visiting is not really much good, because the 
people never will listen to a layman, and they always 
expect money, and are rather spoilt. I shall try this term 
though, and see how I get on." 

He is still troubled with this topic of sick-visiting in the 
November of 1894. 

Nov. 16, 1894. 

I have been reading a very good book on Catechising 
by Bishop Dupanloup. Have you read it ? I believe he is 
the Roman Bishop of Orleans. 

He has also, he proceeds, been reading Hooker, Book V, 
but can find no satisfactory work on Pastoral Theology. 
Gibson's Lectures and a book by Dr. Moule deal chiefly 
with " the way the clergyman should himself live at home." 
The Priest's Inner Life, by Liddon, does not deal with 

These things, after all, are not to be learnt out of books, 
and if instinct, or a predominant sense of duty, does not 
make the pastoral function an integral part of a priest's 
existence, it may be doubted whether he will ever succeed 
in that particular department. To the end you will find that 
Hugh proclaims, and truly, that he has no pastoral soul. 

" Poor people," he sums up, after a long description of 
a visit to a sick boy (whose pain and patience had much 
impressed him), ''poor people are so dreadfully funny 
about everything." 

However, he was to have a suitable amount of practice 
in this part, too, of possible ministerial duty. 

''Sept. 28, 1892 [i.e. 1893]. 

" I have just been appointed to the ' Bishopric ' of Pont- 
canna. It is always in the charge of one of us, who is 


called the 'Bishop,' and it means preaching every other 
Sunday and reading the service on the other Sundays. 

" I have just had a letter from Sinclair Donaldson," he 
adds, "asking me if I should like to come to the Eton 
Mission when I am ordained. 

'< I think I should like it more than anything else. It is 
an ideal thing, I think, to work in the Mission of one's old 
school, particularly with such a man as Sinclair Donaldson. 

" What do you think about it ? I have written to him 
to thank him and to say that I have written to you." 

From the bundle of letters, still surviving among the late 
Archbishop's papers, I can remember constant allusions to 
football matches (he played half-back for some club against 
Cardiff) ; to a boys' class at Pontcanna, where the boys 
proved restive after a time and had to be evicted ; and to a 
few "cases" among the poorer folk which claimed pecu- 
niary aid or institutional intervention. Dr. Barnardo's 
name, and the like, flicker briefly across the pages. He is 
faithful, too, in sending some proportion of the weekly 
sermons he wrote for the Dean home to his father or his 
sister Maggie, to have them corrected, and in giving his 
father a fairly complete list (I suppose) of the books he was 
reading with the Dean. When he found them tedious he 
said so frankly ; sometimes he was carried away, and even 
in these letters, dutiful, and at times almost deprecatory, 
and often downright school-boyish in their phrasing, some- 
thing of Hugh's impetuous generalisations flashes forth. 

" I have been reading," he tells the Archbishop, 
" Hammond's book, English Nonconformity and Christ's 
Christianity ; it is a splendid book, and, it seems to me, 
entirely conclusive. My only wonder is that there are any 
reasonable Nonconformists any more in existence." 

This firm adherence to Church of England orthodoxy 
gains, at this time, a slightly more ecclesiastical tinge, due 
to a particular acquaintance, he tells us, and to a revival of 


the influence of John Inglesant. He begins to " prefer " 
Communion before breakfast. He enters upon the dream, 
never wholly to leave him, of setting up some community 
or other like that of Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding. He 
visits a few houses, even, which he fancies suitable for 
this ; but the idea remained a floating one. 

In the summer of 1894 he asked and obtained his father's 
permission to go to Switzerland, fixing on the Riffel Alp, 
which he already knew as an ideal destination. His father, 
however, planned out a different tour which in itself sounds 
delightful ; but " what I had been very anxious to do was 
to go to the Riffel and do glacier-walking and Riffel Horn 
climbing, and one big peak." It cannot, Hugh urges, injure 
his health — he has had lately a great deal of exercise in 
the way of " hare and hounds," such as six miles in three- 
quarters of an hour ; and his doctor considers that he has 
grown much stronger than he expected, and has by no 
means "remained abnormally undeveloped." He enters 
into considerable detail with regard to economy, though 
indeed, at this period, he has to own that his allowance 
never quite covers his expenses. 

" I heard from Mama," he concludes, " this morning, 
that I might go anywhere in Switzerland. I think I should 
prefer the Riffel to any other place. If the Riffelberg is 
any cheaper, I am thinking of going there — it is higher, for 
one thing. 

" I am so very grateful to you for allowing me to go to 
Switzerland — and more especially for allowing me to choose 
my place. I shall enjoy it enormously." 

The time passed rapidly, on the whole, and he found 
himself on the eve of the Universities Preliminary examina- 
tion. I find myself entirely unable to become clear as to 
its theological nature. Doubtless his very unsystematic 
course of reading included some " set books " at anyrate, 


and I expect a certain outline of Church history, and per- 
haps some elementary patristic work and a good deal of 
semi-devotional literature. Anyhow, in this examination 
he got a First, and wrote to his father : 

Thank you very much for your congratulatory tele- 
gram. I am delightfully surprised. I had terrible dreams 
last night about it — six altogether — in two of them I got 
Firsts, in three a Third, and in one I failed. It is a long 
time, the Dean said this morning, since any of us have 
gone in for that examination and got a First. 

Dean Vaughan wished the candidates for ordination to 
spend the few days immediately preceding that ceremony 
at Llandaff. Hugh, however, had different plans. 

I have been thinking about what I said to you about 
retiring before my ordination. I think that Llandaff is a 
splendid place for the preceding year — but somehow not 
suitable for the six or seven weeks [or, days 7\just before. 
I should like, if possible, to be absolutely alone — I mean 
without any servants — and to be in a place where I should 
not meet people at all — I could do all necessary things in 
the way of meals and sleeping for myself. I do feel that 
I want to be entirely alone. You propose St. David's. I 
should think that that would be delightful in every way — 
if there was any place a few miles out where I could be 
entirely alone. I could go in on Sunday to St, David's, 
and receive the Holy Communion there, but otherwise see 
no one at all. Could you write and tell me what you think 
about this question, and also to the Dean ? I feel I would 
sooner you wrote to the Dean than that I should speak to 
him of it. 

November ^rd. 

I am taking your advice about making methodical 
plans for that time. I dread the going away next week, 
chiefly because it has been so delightful here, and partly 
because I hate going away from any place. The good-byes 
are always so unpleasant. 

It was decided, after a good deal of discussion, that 
he should go to Lincoln for his retreat. He did so, taking 


rooms in a park lodge a few miles outside the city. In his 
letters home he mentions how he walked to certain places 
recollected from among childhood's dim or oddly vivid 
memories ; he recognises this or that triviality ; this or that 
massive fact he wholly has forgotten. He examines the 
Chancery ; notes his father's coat-of-arms in the window ; 
haunts the Cathedral, which he finds of unique and trans- 
cendent beauty; "Cologne," he decides, "does not come 
anywhere near it," an independent judgment which per- 
haps does him credit. What he seems not to mention is 
the period of "desolation," as they say, through which 
he passed there, and on which he insists so much in the 

He had arranged to spend the day in prayer, medita- 
tion, and exercise. It is significant that he already often 
recites the " Little Hours " at anyrate, though, of course, 
in English. For reasons diversely to be diagnosed, he 
enters a " mental agony." There is no truth in religion : 
Jesus Christ is not God ; the whole of life is an empty 
sham ; he himself is, if not the chiefest of sinners, at least 
the most monumental of fools. On Advent Sunday he 
walks, fasting, into Lincoln, communicates, sits about in 
the dusky nave of the Cathedral. The sonorous offices of 
Advent proceed : there is always a touch of tragedy and 
terror in their austerity. The Second Coming is announced 
in prayer and hymn, and be it true or untrue, the future 
seems either way cloudy and appalling. 

Was this due just to that tense excitement to which 
Hugh refers, at the prospect of his diaconate, making its 
reaction felt, as it were, before the time ? Was it a kind of 
struggle of the purely human creature, feeling itself about 
to be enchained ? To all very mobile souls finality brings 
in varying degree a sense of horror. In the case of 


some, the mere trappings of the cleric's state, the com- 
promising collar, the customary suit of solemn black, the 
touch of superciliousness or of cynic humour discernible 
in so many of the greetings it becomes a Levite's lot to 
receive, are enough to terrify their nervous soul, anxious 
lest one freedom should be bought too dearly at the price 
of another. For others, the finality of an internal obliga- 
tion, even celestial, even that of the sacerdos in cBternuniy 
brings with it the pains of death. Or possibly, as some 
will surmise, God was bidding His servant pass through 
that "dark night of the soul" which, since Gethsemane, 
seems to be preface to all great acts of self-surrender. At 
this distance of time it were impossible to diagnose the 
cause of Hugh's spiritual trouble. The clouds cleared 
somewhat. Hugh returned to Addington, and was ordained 
deacon in the Parish Church at Croydon. He alludes 
to this a trifle cynically in his Confessions, acknowledging 
himself " still shaken and . . . spiritually hysterical." Of 
this same ordination his father, far more deeply moved, 
wrote in his diary : 

We have had a happy Ember Week — nineteen men, 
who have passed very well, and given every promise of true 
ministers. I had the wonderful happiness of laying hands 
on my Hugh. He had passed First Class in the Universities 
Preliminary Examination, and was first also in the part 
which is done here, and especially in the sermon. All 
the examiners agree. Accordingly he was gospeller. His 
pre-eminent interest in theology, and the singleness and 
eagerness of his character give us beautiful hopes of his 
humble service to God and the poor. He begins, indeed, 
among the lowest at Hackney Wick in the Eton Mission. 
God keep him stable and strong in His Son Christ. 

Surrounded, then, by the great love of his father and 
mother, Hugh spent a brief interspace of days at home, 
at Addington, before actually starting on his new work. 


Hugh was sincerely happy in his home ; and all that in 
later years was known as so characteristic of him, all his 
inventiveness, boyish enthusiasm, keenness on a hundred 
crossing scents, was already there. Mr. A. Marshall, in 
the article already quoted, offers us a rare glimpse of 
that holiday life at Addington, with the ferny glades and 
hollows of its park, and at Lambeth, with its romantic 
towers. The Archbishop liked to have young people 
there, and unbent to them in all kindness and courtesy. 
"As for Mrs. Benson," Mr. Marshall writes, "it is difficult 
to speak of her kindness in even terms." She would " pack 
off" Hugh and Hugh's friends in one of the Archiepis- 
copal carriages to see a play ; she would love to hear of 
their stealing out to witness the " blood-curdling melo- 
dramas " of the Surrey side : '' I can see (her) shaking 
with laughter at Hugh's descriptions of our experiences. 
She was always ready to get a talk with us ; she was as 
young as we were, and we were very young then, even for 
our years." 

From the organ loft, where one or both of them 
played, as a rule, at the morning and evening services in the 
cha,pel — and it is safe to say that Mr. Marshall was for much 
in the maintenance and development of Hugh's musical 
tastes — a way led straight to the Lambeth smoking-room 
(once, it was said, Cranmer's bedroom). Thither Hugh 
rushed, fresh from Bach and Palestrina, to his cigarettes, 
or to the pipe (discarded, as years passed) which once 
set him alight, as, on his white horse, he rode along 
Vauxhall from Lambeth down to Addington. There the 
friends would stay, alone sometimes, using a delightful 
sunny room called the schoolroom, and having their 
" abundant meals " in the steward's room. Over these 
meals they read, but also talked, on topics growing deeper 


as the months went by, after Hugh's ordination. Also, 
they shot, and rode, and, climbing a wooded knoll when 
evening came, waited, with books in hand, for the wood- 
pigeons to come over. 

I shall be forgiven for quoting one whole paragraph 
in full : 

At the times when the Archbishop was in residence 
at Addington, life was no less pleasant for a guest such 
as I was. Hugh's brothers were often there, and there 
were the two chaplains — young men, as the Archbishop 
liked them to be, and not too much taken up by their 
duties, in those quieter months, to be unable to enjoy 
the ordinary pleasures of a country house. Life went 
quietly and serenely, with plenty to do, outdoors and in. 
There was always much discussion going on, especially 
when the younger men, and others who might be staying 
in the house, met at night at " Philippi." This was the 
large attic smoking-room, which had to be away from 
the rooms occupied by the Archbishop. Sometimes the 
discussion waxed rather warm. Hugh and one of the 
chaplains once ended by falling out seriously. The next 
morning Hugh went away for a few days with the breach 
still unhealed. When he returned, the chaplain met him, 
and said, " When you had left, I thought things over, 
and came to the conclusion that you had been right. So 
I bought you a box of the most expensive cigarettes, to 
make up." Then a smile began to spread over his face. 
" But they were so good that I'm afraid I have smoked 
them all," he said. 

But by this time the real work of his life was beginning 
for Hugh at Hackney. 

The Eton Mission was one of those many school 
Missions which were inaugurated in the eighties. They 
consist, as a rule, of a parish of which the congregation 
is of the poorest, while the church and its annexes are 
built and maintained by the subscriptions of the school 
responsible for the Mission, and staffed, if possible, by 


"old boys" of the parent school. These Missions were 
carried forward by the wave of social and philanthropic 
enterprise which at that period was sweeping all before 
it ; and they were meant to produce a double effect — the 
evangelisation, that is, not only of the district in which 
they existed, but of the school which created them. It 
was felt, of course, that an accumulation of boys belong- 
ing, as the members of the big public schools are supposed 
on the whole to do, to the wealthier classes might be 
taught in this way the responsibilities of fortune, and 
also, by the various kinds of contact thus engineered, be 
brought into organic and spiritual connection with classes 
other than their own. It would be out of place to discuss 
how far this plan succeeds ; what is quite clear is that 
the several Missions do provide a rallying-point, a centre 
naturally turned to, for those Etonians, Harrovians, and 
Wykehamists, and so on, who from whatever cause find 
themselves touched with social zeal. That it will be the 
" old boys," rather than the actual generation of the school, 
who in various ways are thus awakened, does not imply 
that the enterprise, even as a school enterprise, is a failure. 
If the Mission clergy be men, like the late Fr. Dolling, 
who know how to put themselves in sympathy with boys' 
imagination and points of view, there is no reason why 
even at school boys should not take a keen and formative 
interest in their Mission. It remains that I cannot re- 
member any such interest being generally felt for the 
only Mission I have personally known, and Mr. A. C. 
Benson seems to imply that neither at Eton was the 
Hackney Wick parish an object of much actual enthusiasm. 
I need not say that merely to invite subscriptions from 
the boys to their Mission or settlement is of all methods 
the most futile : personal service is alone of value. 


The Rev. St. Clair Donaldson had, it will be remem- 
bered, invited Hugh's presence on the Mission staff as 
early as 1893. This clergyman, afterwards Archbishop of 
Brisbane, is described as Evangelical by Mr. A. C. Ben- 
son, and as doing a work at Hackney Wick which was 
" moderate, kindly, and sensible," in succession to a very 
High Church vicar, the Rev. William Carter, afterwards 
Archbishop of Capetown. The enterprise had become, 
by 1895, a very considerable affair : church, church- 
house, clubs, and the like were impressive and well 
subsidised ; there were, I think, two, or perhaps three, 
curates besides Hugh. Hugh mentions that the more 
" Catholic " of the methods once in vogue in the Mission 
had been modified. The confessions heard in the vestry 
were now rare ; the daily celebration in Bodley's solemn 
Gothic church, with its Latin inscriptions and air of 
High Church Anglicanism, had been reduced in number ; 
a ladies' settlement sought to do the work Catholics would 
usually entrust to nuns ; temperance propaganda throve ; 
the Band of Hope was said to be the best in London. 

I should be ready to believe that Hugh was happier 

there than you could gather from his Confessions, or 

even from his letters of this period, though these, I 

confess, seem more robust and full of downright jokes 

than before or after. Other letters, addressed to him 

when he left, show how much he had made himself 

beloved. Besides, as I said, he writes to his father with 

regard to what the Archbishop wanted to be told rather 

than with a spontaneous expression of what filled his 

own mind ; and the Confessions, in all this part, are a 

guide of doubtful value psychologically speaking. His 

mother, utterly in sympathy (as from more than one of 

her letters is apparent) with their portrait of his feelings 
I H 


after, say, 1902, cannot recognise their full truthfulness 
previously to that date. 

The first letter he wrote to the Archbishop from the 
Mission gives some sort of picture of his life there : 

\ January 1895.] 

When I arrived on Friday night I went to a large 
children's party, with prize-giving, &c,, and last night I 
just went into an "Infants' Tea" — and to-day there has 
been teaching in the Sunday School, which I found 
very hard, much harder than preaching, as one sees the 
boredom of one's audience so much more clearly. Then 
there was a large children's service. ... I feel so terribly 
incompetent at present. All the rest of them know the 
children by sight and name, &c. And at present I 
scarcely know a single person by sight. Also, they know 
how to do things — and I am only falling over my own 
experiments — but I suppose these things will improve. I 
am looking forward very much to my time here. ... I 
have not got to preach for some time yet, I am glad 
to say. 

And a little later : 

January 1895. 

I am attached to the Men's Club here particularly, 
and have to go in generally in the evening and talk to 
them ; they are much more sociable than I expected, 
and I think I have made friends with five or six of 
them. But there is a class of them who play cards, and 
apparently have not the slightest wish to pay one any 
attention. In visiting I have made a beginning ; but 
it is very hard starting with a large number of people 
none of whom I have ever seen before. We all meet — 
the ladies as well — and go over the district on paper on 
Monday morning. For the first time, to-day, I have been 
deputed to visit sick people in my district, and am 
going to do it this afternoon, but I am very anxious 
about it. 

And again : 

January 18, 1895. 

I find this a terrible place for sleepiness. One does 
not get back to the house generally till eleven, and one 
cannot instantly go to bed ; and there is Service every 


morning at eight at least — sometimes at 7.30. And I am 
always very sleepy in the morning, and have several 
devices for waking — an alarum, and a string tied to my 
finger which is pulled like a bell-rope from outside. This 
morning everything failed except the alarum, which woke 
me. I find it quite necessary to have more than one 
thing to depend on. 

Sinclair works most terribly hard, and is perpetually 
on the move about the parish ; with addresses, &c. I 
cannot think how he does it to that extent ; and he is 
always perfectly cheerful, which is most reassuring. He 
is quite a splendid person to be under. 

I am beginning to have sick visiting, and I think 
that on the whole it is easier than ordinary visiting : it 
always seems hard to say certain things out of a clear 
sky, which is not so in sick visiting. The sick seem to 
expect it much more ; it is extraordinary how a sick 
person seems to be a kind of free show to all the 
neighbours, who crowd into the room and stare solemnly. 
The sick person himself, too, seems to appreciate the 
dignity of suffering, though they often turn it into the 
conceit of suffering instead. 

He lost no time, however, in creating some such en- 
vironment as he felt himself to need. 

Most of my pictures are hung now, and bookcases are 
beginning to come in. I have an immense lot of books — 
many of them novels (in which I am my mamma's son). 
Several also dealing with drawing-room mysticism (in 
which also I am my mamma's son). 

In the sketch-book I have mentioned above there are 
numerous little portraits of Hugh's fellow-curates, by Hugh, 
and of Hugh by them. Hugh sits, as a rule, in an attitude 
of contented collapse, in a vast arm-chair. There are two 
or three indescribably depressing drawings of the Hackney 
Marshes; and one page is full of tiny sketches of all 
manner of Mission athletic sports, and other Mission in- 
cidents. A billiard table is labelled " every evening " ; a 
youth playing baseball (one would gather) is ticketed 


" every day." There are cricket and football matches, and 
races ; a card-table, and an enormous soup-kitchen with 
Gothic windows. A Hackney dame exclaims, in a phrase 
Hugh was singularly devoted to, "We can't help being 
poor, but we can help being honest " ; and the central 
figure of the page is a really well-characterised coster, 
shouting, at the "Eton Mission and Mansfield House" 
match, in 1895, "Bust 'is 'ead. Butty !" Sometimes a brief 
legend disarms our criticism : " This is intended to re- 
present the dog ' Timothy ' — with the fireplace behind, but 
it is not really very like him or the fireplace." And in the 
midst of these full-blooded caricatures, appears the exotic 
black and white silhouette of " A Lady, after Aubrey Beard- 
sley." This is a tiny hint ; but it is reinforced by a sen- 
tence from a very entertaining correspondent, who regrets 
that two letters of Hugh's have never reached him. " It 
is a blow to me," he writes, " to hear what I lost — all 
the virtue of The Green Carnation without the vice, no 
doubt." He also tells Hugh a story about Mr. Richard Le 
Gallienne, adding, " Please don't tell the story as coming 
from me, for I don't believe a word of it. Tell it as X's, 
or better still, Y's." He recommends a story by Mr. 
Montague James in the National Review. " It is a gem — 
thoroughly Jamesian with slight touches of Lefanu, and 
quite as blood-curdling." Observe, then, the authors, whom 
Benson, in his conventional environment, did not deny to 
himself. Else, he became accustomed to regard the Eton 
Mission as an extreme instance of the Suitable, a category 
for which he has, you will notice, a cordial detestation. 
In None Other Gods, the Mission is depicted in a mixed 
spirit of affection, respect, and amused annoyance. The 
curate visits his district, and that makes a bitter little 
vignette : Frank Guiseley calls on the curate, and finds his 


room a portent of suitability : its chairs, its photos, its 
trophies, its cocoa, its occupant are all so exactly what 
they should be. . . . And if you seek for his extremest con- 
demnation of the suitable, you will find it, I think, incar- 
nated in the marriage of Annie Hamilton and Lord Brasted 
in The Sentimentalists, and of Lady Sarah and Jim in A 
Winnowing. But there is hardly a modern book of his in 
which he does not gibe at the *' Suitable." All that, he 
wanted to see burnt up by the " fire of love," which was 
precisely what the diagnosis of Mr. A. C. Benson sees to 
be lacking in the Mission's ordered philanthropy. 

Hugh, therefore, was confessedly not in his place in the 
Hackney Wick Church house, and felt this. 

" He never found (his duties there)," his brother 
writes in Hugh, "a congenial occupation, and I cannot 
help feeling that it was rather a case of putting a very 
delicate and subtle instrument to do a rough sort of work. 
What was needed was a hearty, kindly, elder-brotherly 
relation, and the men who did this best were the good- 
natured and robust men with a generic interest in the 
young, who could set a clean-minded, wholesome, and 
hearty example. But Hugh was not of this type. His 
mind was full of mystical and poetical ideas of religion, 
and his artistic nature was intent upon expressing them. 
He was successful in a way, because he had by this time 
a great charm of frankness and simplicity ; he never had 
the least temptation to draw social distinctions, but he 
desired to find people personally interesting. He used to 
say afterwards that he did not really believe in what involved 
a sort of social condescension, and, like another incisive 
missioner, he thought that the giving up a few evenings a 
week by wealthy and even fashionable young men, how- 
ever good-hearted and earnest, to sharing the amusements 
of the boys of a parish, was only a very uncomfortable 
way of showing the poor how the rich lived ! " 

It may be said that in his work with children he found 
what was best suited to his temperament. 


"In 1895," a friend of his wrote afterwards, "when he 
was at the Eton Mission, I once heard him take a Children's 
Service, and afterwards train a whole lot of children for 
a Christmas pantomime, which he had himself written, on 
the Rose and the Ring. I do not know which performance 
was the more impressive. He established strong cords 
of sympathy and affection with children, and I think they 
loved him because he loved them." 

He continued his custom of using fairy-stories as an 
" approach," which he had begun at Pontcanna. 

" I lent him," he writes to Mrs. Benson, " the Green Fairy 
Booky with Mary Benson, Addington, written in the be- 
ginning. That book has done a surprising amount of 
work, and I expect will do a good deal more before you 
see it again : if such an unlikely thing ever happens." 

He takes children down to Addington, and his letters are 
full of the Rose and the Ring when he is preparing that 
pantomime ; he sketches its rehearsal, too, in his little 
book, and it would seem to have been a very considerable 
affair. To bear out his friend's juxtaposition of ritual and 
rehearsal, there exists, too, a book of Children's Services, 
and instructions most accurately planned. Yet he did not 
confine his instructions, nor his successes, to children. 

"I am beginning," he tells his father, "two classes a 
week for some of our choir men on the Prayer Book 
and Bible-^the Bible Classes are for the Sunday School 
Examination. It is delightful to try to teach people who 
want to learn — for a change : " 

and he certainly finds that it is by these more conversational 
approaches that he comes nearer souls than in the pulpit. 
In view of his later experiences, it is odd to find that he 
could not preach extempore. 

Once he did indeed attempt to do so, with much 
nervousness and hesitation. 


The same evening St. Clair Donaldson said to him 
kindly but firmly that preachers were of two kinds — the 
kind that could write a fairly coherent discourse and 
deliver it more or less impressively, and the kind that 
might venture, after careful preparation, to speak extempore ; 
and that he felt bound to tell Hugh that he belonged 
undoubtedly to the first kind.^ 

Lord Stanmore, however, Mr. A. C. Benson goes on to 
say, no inexperienced judge, placed Hugh even before his 
conversion in the first rank of Anglican preachers. 

On one famous occasion, extempore harangue was 
forced upon Hugh. He had been appointed to read the 
funeral service, and, at the set hour, no hearse arrived. 
Hugh read collects and suitable passages of Scripture and 
delivered an address. Finally he gave out the number of 
a hymn ; it was unknown ; the organist had deserted his 
post. Hugh sang the hymn as a solo. 

This was, I think, the funeral of which he writes : 

I am taking my first funeral to-day — a child whom I 
visited when he was ill. I had to go and see him lying in 
state, which was horrible. The parents had a sense of 
pleased proprietorship which was not so apparent when 
he was alive ; and there were doors to be unlocked, and 
horrible yellow blinds to cast a lurid light. 

Quite early in his stay at the Eton Mission — in fact, 
in February, 1895 — he was invited to attend a retreat at 
Kemsing, a village near Sevenoaks, afterwards important in 
his life. The retreat marked an epoch. Of it he wrote to 
his father the following brief words : 

My dear Papa, — I am writing to wish you many 
happy returns of the day for to-morrow ; I am afraid I 
have not often remembered your birthday before. 

We have had a delightful time here this last week ; the 
addresses were splendid. There were about twelve clergy 
here, together with three or four laymen. 

1 Hugh, p. 86. 


One of these laymen was Mr. A. Marshall, who went, 
like Hugh, nervous lest the flesh should be too weak to 
bear the strain of a retreat lasting two full days, and 
involving seven addresses in all, of an hour each, a day 
strictly mapped out, and offices recited in common. " But 
there was no strain," says Mr. Marshall. " Fr. Maturin, 
then of the Cowley Fathers, of all the preachers I have 
ever heard, was, at his best, the most capable of holding 
his hearers' attention ; and he was at his very best then. 
He sat in a chair on the chancel step, underneath the 
carved arcading of the rood loft, and talked ; and I, for 
one, hardly took my eyes off him." 

" I was," says Benson,^ " completely taken by storm. 
For the first time Christian Doctrine, as Father Maturin 
preached it, displayed itself to me as an orderly scheme. 
I saw now how things fitted on one to the other, how the 
sacraments followed inevitably from the Incarnation, how 
body and spirit were alike met in the mercy of God. . . . 
He caught up my fragments of thought, my glimpses of 
spiritual experience, my gropings in the twilight, and 
showed me the whole, glowing and transfigured in an 
immense scheme whose existence I had not suspected. 
He touched my heart also, profoundly, as well as my head, 
revealing to me the springs and motives of my own nature 
in a completely new manner." 

Hugh, however, on those wintry afternoons, argued 
" in his hot, dogmatic way, which yet was logical and 
persuasive," says Mr. Marshall, against the practice of 
Confession, on which Fr. Maturin so strongly dwelt. 
There was no hint that Hugh would budge from his via 
media of doctrine, which was so accurate that he considered 
its suitable expression, in clerical dress, to be a frock-coat, 
a white tie, and any collar that was not Roman. . . . Hugh 
at this time believed that, in days gone by, the Church of 

^ Confessions, p. 35. 


England had admittedly stood for a certain scheme of 
religion, neither Roman nor Protestant, and that this had 
been authoritatively recognised. 

" I believe," says Mr. Marshall, shrewdly at anyrate, 
*' that if he had lived at the beginning of the nineteenth 
century instead of at the end, he would never have left the 
Church of England. He was an extreme controversialist 
at all times, but it was necessary for him to feel that he 
had widely-admitted authority behind him. That has been 
impossible in the Church of England since the Oxford 
Movement turned its level plain into a mountain, upon one 
slope or other of which its clergy must find a foothold, 
each for himself. There is no authority that is universally 
accepted in the Church of England, and with Hugh's 
temperament, when he had once set foot upon the slope 
that is on the Romeward side, he was bound to end where 
he did, little as he or his friends thought it. I remember 
his saying to me, a few years after he had ' gone over ' : 
' It is such a relief to find my bishop as High Church as I 
am.' He had reached the level ground then, and could 
use all his artillery against those still on the slopes, without 
fear of being attacked from a position higher up or lower 

I think it was at this time, or very slightly later, that 
he made a full and elaborate transcript of St. Ignatius's 
Exercisesy with amplifications. The results of this are seen 
in By What Authority ? written, of course, before he was a 
Catholic. Later on, his spirituality migrated somewhat 
from the Ignatian to what he considered a more Carthusian 
or Benedictine method. 

Hugh returned, after the retreat, to Hackney Wick, 
and in due course was ordained. He relates that he pre- 
faced his new life by a general confession, made, with the 
Archbishop's full knowledge and consent, to a kind and 
skilful clergyman, who set Hugh a penance which would 
last half an hour daily till his next confession, three months 


distant. The joy which followed this confession was, he 
says, " simply indescribable. I went home in a kind of 
ecstasy." So, too, was his ordination an '' immense happi- 
ness." He walked about the Addington woods, exulting 
in the conviction that he was now a priest, and could do 
for others what they hitherto had done for him. Here, 
indeed, is the sacerdotal spirit : Hugh Benson feels that 
he has not only a higher position, but is in some sense 
altered even as man, by his ordination. A new and unique 
spirit, and hence a new, unshared power of action, is 
within him. 

He returns, therefore, to the Eton Mission full of a new 
enthusiasm, more than content, obstinately sure, for in- 
stance, that the intellectual position of his Cambridge 
friend (now Fr. Ritchie of the Birmingham Oratory) must 
necessarily, being Romanist, be ridiculous.^ Still, he goes 
to stay with him in Cornwall, and, having no cassock of 
his own, borrows his friend's religious habit, and, in a sort 
of joyous excitement, wears it in the pulpit of the parish 

For all that, his personal religion was still deepening, 
and, together with a dawning notion of the corporate life 
of the Christian as symbolised in and produced through 
the Sacraments, he begins to realise that these very 

^ Riding one day with the Archbishop down Bird-Cage Walk towards Lambeth, 
he will declare he has never understood that article of the creed which professes 
belief in the Holy Catholic Church. For instance, he inquires, are the Roman 
Catholics " a part of the Church of Christ " ? The Archbishop could not answer 
categorically : perhaps their errors had been such as to involve their forfeiting 
membership in Christ's Body ... I give this anecdote, abbreviating a little, 
from the Confessions. It is right to say that to Hugh's family this appears 
wholly uncharacteristic of the Archbishop, "who always answered such questions 
fully and eagerly." 

* Why, then, so excitedly ? Simply with the schoolboy's joy in dressing up, 
which led him to appropriate and wear a friend's M.A. hood at a religious 
function in Sunningdale ? How long will it be before this element of excitement 
will be filtered from his life ? 


sacraments are perhaps necessary for that materialising of 
religion exacted too by the soul as individual. The clubs 
and visiting and pantomimes and all the programme of 
philanthropy, so scientifically and self-regardlessly carried 
out at the Eton Mission, seem to him almost non-religious. 
He begins to long for a chaplain's life, and in January, 
1896, asks to discuss, with his father, plans for a near 

But the decision was taken from his hands. In October 
1896, the Archbishop died suddenly, in Mr. Gladstone's 
church at Hawarden. Hugh was given the telegram 
when actually taking Sunday School. He travelled down 
to Hawarden that night, and, in the train, read the Even- 
song appointed for that day. In the Second Lesson, he 
will always thereafter recollect, occurred these words : 
" Lord, suffer me first to bury my father, and then I will 
follow Thee." The days of burial were indeed full of a 
certain distraction of "dignity and sorrow." Hugh cele- 
brated at Hawarden before he left for Canterbury, where 
the actual funeral took place in a violent storm of thunder, 
rain, and wind. Hugh returned to Addington, still half 
dazed with the shock of so many violent impressions. 
" There was a sensation," as long afterwards he remembered 
some one saying to him, " as if the roof were gone. How- 
ever grown-up one is, one's father always stands as a 
sort of protective covering to one's own weakness." He 
had meant, as from a letter from his vicar is quite clear, to 
return on the subsequent Saturday to Hackney. " I can 
quite imagine you will wish to do so. For, after all, work 
is a welcome refuge." But at a week's notice he was 
ordered to Egypt with his mother and sister, being 
threatened with rheumatic fever, and he never returned 
to the Mission. He sailed in the Sutlej from Venice on 


Nov. 25 ; and I see that on Nov. 20 his going to a curacy 
at Kemsing had already been arranged.^ 

A few pathetic letters of farewell survive among his 
papers. Let me quote one which any man might feel 
happy to receive. 

A parishioner wrote to him : 

Can you not go away for the winter and come back 
to us in the spring do not leave us altogether we are all 
rough and Ignorant but our love is strong if not shown in 
the best way, and I feel that I am in some way answerable 
for your Trouble I wish I had not spoken to you as I 
did it worries me more than I can say and yet I only 
answered you according to what you was saying. ... I 
am selfish but I know I was one of the first you visited 
when you first came and you did not mind my rough way 
of speaking to you and there are a great many who think 
just as much as we do . . . do not give us up altogether it 
seems so strange that as soon as we get a clergyman we 
like they leave us we must be a dreadful lot of people. 

He closed thus a momentous chapter in his life. It 
had included that ordination which will govern so much 
of his future, for he will never be able to think of himself 
otherwise than as a priest, and therefore with the duty of 
acting directly upon souls. His personal charm and power 
will reinforce his belief, and he will succeed in this line 
of direct spiritual action, and he will feel no need for 
further professional study, nor fear lest by leaving to one 
side the ordinary cares of parochial energy, he is abandon- 

^ There is an anecdote which shows, I think, the sort of gentle flippancy 
often noticeable in Hugh, which, when mingled with genuine gravity of under- 
lying feeling, issues, I think, almost into tenderness. 

"I had been taught," a friend of Hugh's has written to me, " to love and 
admire the Archbishop, through reading A. C. Benson's biography. After visit- 
ing the tomb at Canterbury, I said to Mgr. Benson : ' I felt more inclined to ask 
his prayers than to pray for him.' ' Yes,' he answered, ' I understand that.' ' I 
don't believe,' I said, ' a man like that has any Purgatory.' He answered with a 
twinkle : ' Oh, I think if it was left to me, I'd give him about fiye minutes.' " 

Hugh Benson regularly said Mass for his father's soul. 


ing his duty. He has found his road, and all his reading 
and observation will be arranged, henceforward, to corro- 
borate his march therein. 

One regret he will always keep. He had not really 
known the father whose devotion for him was so passion- 
ate and profound. Even when he realised him the better 
from his own increasing experience, his love had remained 
all too inarticulate. Years later, on reading the Arch- 
bishop's life by Mr. A. C. Benson, he will recognise this 
yet more fully, and to his mother he will write from 
Cambridge : 

July <)th, 1905. 

By the way, I have been reading through papa's Life — 
what a book ! It is one of the most interesting and affect- 
ing things I have ever read. And how extraordinarily well 
Arthur has done it ! I wish I could have read it twenty 
years ago. 

Meanwhile, his horizon was to widen rapidly, and his 
whole spiritual life to grow yet more marked and moulded 
in its destined lines. 


Con Fanciulli Fanciullo sapientemente. 

From an Epigram on St. Philip Neri at Rome. 

Mrs. Craigie, when relating the very singular conversion 
of Lord Marlesford, tells how he started for Norway, but 
broke the journey at Paris, which he found 

insufferably tedious, and a story too old for words. He 
abandoned the Norway expedition, and went instead to 
Venice. In Venice it seemed almost vulgar to be a Pro- 
testant ; he hurried on to Florence. To be a Protestant 
in Florence is to be a tourist at best ! He went to Rome. 
To be a Protestant in Rome was to be uncivilised, illiterate, 
and a shade ridiculous. Two months later he was received 
into the Roman Church. 

The few months which Hugh Benson now spent in the 
East had, in sober fact, really something of a similar 
influence upon him. His contentment with the Church 
of England suffered a shock. He travelled straight through 
France and across North Italy to Venice, and in church 
after church he found himself, as an ecclesiastical official, 
to be ignored. " Behold ! we were nowhere." From 
Venice he sailed to Egypt, and at Luxor assisted the 
hotel chaplain in his services, feeling the whole business 
to be "terribly isolated and provincial." You recognise 
how out of place are the Englishwomen you will meet 
in continental trains, drinking their tea cooked over spirit- 
lamps, with milk boiled for fear of infection ; you resent 

their clothes, revealed, in France, as perfectly impossible ; 



you feel brutal towards their stiffnesses, and derisive of 
their timid unconventionalities, their condescensions to 
the fact that here they are "abroad." So, I think with- 
out flippancy, one may say Hugh felt towards the decorous 
prayer-book offices recited by clergymen in Egyptian 
hotels. In one place he explicitly sees the English religion 
carried about by its owner, as some comfortable and 
customary appendage, an india-rubber bath. . . . 

Mr. J. H. Molesworth, then a clergyman of the Church 
of England, met him first at Luxor, where, " with charac- 
teristic energy and enthusiasm, Hugh was excavating in 
the Temple of Muth." They then inaugurated a friend- 
ship which lasted unbroken till his death. There, too, 
Hugh entered a little village church, hut-like among other 
Arab huts, and, for all the spangles, muslin, and crimped 
paper of its decoration, he felt that it was there in its 
proper place, and had become racy of the soil. In its 
strange atmosphere. Catholic faith for the first time, he 
surmises, stirred within him. The enormous question 
for the first time addressed itself to him : Could Rome be 
right ? The respect involved in fear began to substitute 
itself for the contempt he had so far felt for the papal 
system.! For his " reassurance " he fled to the Copts, and 
sent a pair of candlesticks, on his return to England, to 
the Coptic priest, for his altar. . . . Were the Copts in 
schism ? Benson did not stop to ask. He felt himself, 
perhaps, in something of a glass house. At Cairo he had 
already had two audiences of the Coptic Patriarch. He 

^ How various are the lenses through which souls view their world ! The 
Archbishop, on his tour in Algeria, wrote to the Bishop of Rochester : " I am 
much impressed with the [Mohammedan] religion. . . . The Romanists, with 
their tawdry idols of St. Joseph, the Immaculate Conception, &c., will never win 
these Monotheists. The churches are less spiritual in conception now than the 
mosques. . . ." The Archbishop too was a sensitive impressionist. Only, the 
impressions fell upon temperaments how different ! 


now wrote, begging to be admitted into communion with 
him. The Patriarch would not answer, and Hugh was 
" left shivering." 

In Jerusalem, which Benson reached somewhat later, 
and apparently alone, he re-encountered Mr. Molesworth. 
Here, as the latter has kindly written, 

We arranged to travel together through the Holy Land, 
sharing the same tent. In this way I saw a great deal of 
him, and it established an intimacy between us. I shall 
always reckon it a singular piece of good fortune that I 
had as a companion on that camping-out expedition from 
Jerusalem to Damascus one who could approach the Holy 
Places with so sympathetic and imaginative a mind. His 
eager enthusiasm and buoyant spirits, I remember, com- 
municated themselves to the entire party of fellow- 

The recollection of our tour in Palestine stands out fresh 
in my mind to-day, although eighteen years have elapsed 
since then. We were generally in the saddle most of the 
day, starting at six in the morning, and he used thoroughly 
to enjoy the ride in the keen morning air. Nothing escaped 
his notice as we visited one after another the sacred places. 
At nights in our tent we used to have long talks on a 
variety of subjects, and he was fond of telling me of 
ghost stories and apparitions associated with haunted 
houses, &c., in which the Archbishop had been interested. 
I thought afterwards I saw in all this a germ of the ideas 
that appeared in his earlier books, though at that time he 
seemed to be wholly unconscious of the literary powers he 
subsequently displayed. 

His conversation turned readily on the topic which was 
beginning to haunt him, and the road between Jerusalem 
and Damascus once more was witness of a spiritual up- 
heaval, though it was the beginning, this time, not the 
consummating of a process which should change a man 
into loving what once he hated ; but a goad at least was 
offered now to Hugh against which, for a while, his restive 
feet might kick. At Jerusalem itself he found the Anglican 


Bishop kind, and was asked to preach in his chapel, and 
was given a cross now hanging on an image of Our 
Lady. . . . He obtained, too, leave to celebrate in the 
Chapel of Abraham, and the Confraternity of the Blessed 
Sacrament provided him with vestments ; but the Greeks 
wheeled in a table to replace their altar, which they denied 
to him, and watched him with polite curiosity from the 
door. Sect after sect, too, officiated at the Sepulchre : 
"strange uncouth rites" went forward at Bethlehem. 
Alone the Anglican Church was held aloof. For all that, 
he surrounded the Oriental Churches with the pathetic 
halo given by men to what they woo and cannot win, 
while on Rome he bore with a hardness which Mr. 
Molesworth considered to be unmerited. Certainly he 
was angered to feel himself in " full communion " with 
some Irish Protestant fellow-travellers, and wore his 
cassock publicly, by way of protest, and joined with an 
American clergyman, now a Catholic, who had brought 
with him a full equipment for saying Mass, and recited 
Office even when on horseback. It was something of 
a douche after this, to be snubbed by a shopman who de- 
clared that despite the cassock Mr. Benson must be a 
clergyman, not a priest. . . . 

"A subject," Mr. Molesworth writes, "in which we 
were both interested at that time was Community Life in 
the Church of England. And we used to talk about its 
growth and possibilities a great deal. I remember he 
then considered the Cowley Fathers' system as too rigid 
and severe, not quite human enough, perhaps not quite 
enough English. The Mirfield life had also not then 
appealed to him. But he was attracted by the picture 
represented in John Inglesant, and the life established 
at Little Gidding by Nicholas Ferrar. We talked so much 
about this as being the life in accordance with the genius 
of the Church of England, that at a later date I made a 
I I 


special pilgrimage to Little Gidding, and reported to him 
on what I thought its possibilities." 

Hugh emphasized the need of keeping the Community 
quite " English," by which he says he meant " Catholic." 
" We were," he writes, " to wear no Eucharistic vestments, 
but full surplices and black scarfs, and were to do nothing 
in particular." 

At Damascus, however, something of a thunderbolt 
did fall. The Guardian reached him even there, and told 
him that Father Maturin had been received into the Church. 
The man who had given him, for the first time, a vision 
of Christendom and an intelligible scheme of dogma had 
transferred his allegiance to that See whose voice, Benson 
afterwards declared, was even then calling him, and being 

His return to England and to Kemsing was, in effect, a 
flight. Hugh's advent, as I said, had been arranged almost 
immediately after his father's death. The vicar of Kemsing 
was the Rev. T. Carleton Skarratt, a clergyman of much 
refinement and culture. He held out great attractions to 
Hugh Benson, promising him not only a moderate income 
over and above his board and lodging, but two rooms for 
living in, the " yellow bedroom " and his own study, provided 
that he were still allowed to see parishioners there privately. 

" I would give you," he wrote, " a free hand with the 
children, as until now I have never been able to trust 
them to anyone else — the Kemsing [? morning] school 
wants, too, more system and method. Also, there is the 
day school — a most important field. We have 196 children 
in the day school, and 120 in the Sunday school." 

He has been, he adds, coaching children for a 
" Eucharist," but has been obliged to give up young men 
and boys, and alludes to the "much sin and ignorance. 


and still more indifference and hardness of heart " Hugh 
would discover in the village. Much "patience and for- 
bearance," he also reminded Hugh, would be needed in 
"the extreme test to us both of living together," and re- 
commended a simple rule of life and prayer to which 
both should adhere. "There is no lack of organisation 
here, as you know," he optimistically declared, " but co- 
operation is necessary." 

Hugh therefore came to Kemsing, which is near Seven- 
oaks, and looks south from behind the shelter of those 
chalk downs over which the Pilgrims' Way, running from 
Winchester to Canterbury, passes. A church has stood at 
Kemsing for some thousand years, and St. Edith, natural 
daughter of King Edgar, was born there in 961. At St. 
Dunstan's stern behest, the King founded an abbey there, 
whose abbess she became, as well as secondary patron, 
after Our Lady, of the parish. The church was restored 
in 1260, and oak beams of that period still remain in it, as 
well as a very ancient wooden door, with its fifteenth-cen- 
tury bolts and hinges, and a marvellous Saxon or early 
Norman font. Saxon, too, are the walls of the nave, with 
many faint traces of frescoes still apparent. The fifteenth- 
century glass of the cast window remained intact till 1826, 
when it was broken, I am told, as ^' too papistical " ; one 
glass medallion of Our Lady dates from 1220. Another 
medallion, the Benson coat, was given by Hugh Benson. 
The screen is fifteenth century, but the superb loft and 
figures and the appointments of the sanctuary are modern. 

Hugh was fascinated with the place, and decided, as he 
always will, on arriving at a new locality with which he 
falls in love, never to leave it. . . . 

"This is a most charming place," he writes in May. 
" You would love it, I think, as a peaceful country vicarage, 


with a large garden. There is a perfectly beautiful church 
just below the house ; the churchyard joins on to the 
garden. And there is a decided Conservative population. 
It is not unlike Addington in the tone of the people. . . . 
Most of the big people are away, for which one is thankful. 
"As far as I can see, I wish to stop here the rest of my 
life. It is pure bliss in every way." 

And to his mother he wrote : 

May 2, 1897. 

My dear Mamma, — Here I am at last. It is all per- 
fectly heavenly. . . . Archie [Marshall] has appointed him- 
self sacristan of the church, and I have appointed him, 
most unwillingly on his part, catechist for the children. 
Also, we are going to start and edit a parish magazine 
together. I have just come out from a children's service, 
and am preaching this evening. 

Of all people, I met Beth at Victoria. She had guessed 
at my train and come to meet me, and is looking brilliantly 
well. " Eh, now ! tell your mamma that you have seen 
me." But I had to hurry away, and couldn't talk to her 
for more than a few minutes. . . . 

I am afraid you are having horribly hot weather. I 
wish we could give you some of the cold wind here. I am 
wearing Jaeger, but there is a divine blue sky. You must really 
come down here soon. We have our first children's Euchar- 
ist on June n, and Frank is going to compose at once a 
special service for them. But you mustn't come for the 
first ; you must come when we have seen that it is all right 
in every way. But some time in June again there will be 

The C 's aren't here. One dreads horribly making 

the acquaintance of everybody. Everybody is a meaning- 
less blur at present — all exactly alike. One can only divide 
them into dark and fair. 

We have got a Confirmation in .this church on Wednes- 
day — the second since the Reformation. 

There are all kinds of people always turning up ... so 
there is a deal of company. 

My rooms here are lovely : I have turned Mr. Skarratt 
out of his study, and Frank out of his bedroom. I must be 
getting some of my furniture down this week. 

I am going up to the Eton Mission this week, I expect, 
for a rehearsal of the pantomime. 


It is all so perfect that I sit and smile with delight at 
Mr. Skarratt and the Marshalls, with the expression of an 
earnest Christian, and they smile back. 

We had a lovely crossing from Calais to Dover ; and I 
ate roast mutton, thank you, in the cabin, and then smoked 
cigarettes on deck. Some people, though, were ill. — Ever 
your most loving son, Hugh. 

Even much later, as a Catholic, he invited a friend to 
pass with him, on a walking tour, through Kemsing : 

Skarratt and his house and church ! [he cries]. They 
are too beautiful ! And he is exactly like Napoleon 
Bonaparte, painted red ; and the Wooden Man of Boulak. 
He also has an Italian garden, and a choir that sing like 

It is quite true that Hugh's life there was extraordinarily 
pleasant. The Vicarage was relatively luxurious,* and its 
hospitality was generous. Hugh was surrounded with 
friends : Mr. Archibald Marshall was living in the village, 
and his brother, Mr. F. Marshall, in the Vicarage itself. 

Besides these, there was afterwards present M. Alexis 
Larpent, who from his home in Paris, and despite his grave 
infirmities, has most generously sent to me his reminis- 
cences of Hugh. 

They date from early in 1896, when M. Larpent was 
at Addington. He is a patristic scholar, and was assist- 
ing the Archbishop in seeing his Si. Cyprian through the 
Press. He arrived on the day of the " Household Ball," 
and at dinner, which was served in the Chinese room, he 
met Hugh, who was full of the Eton Mission and danced 

^ When I visited it, the late summer had stripped the grounds of their best 
glories. Still, round the many lawns, on the terraces, and in the Italian garden, 
roses and purple clematis and huge tufts of sweet peas and smoke-blue flowers 
looked gorgeous against yew hedges, clipped into fantastic forms, and in the 
tiny ponds crimson water-lilies burned. 


energetically the whole evening through.^ M. Larpent, 
who ccinfesses to " une certaine frayeur de ce que Ton 
appelle social work," could not be persuaded to talk to 
Hugh even by the news that the young cleric had written 
piously on St. Bernard. He carried away with him, how- 
ever, an impression of happiness and purity, and of a 
certain radiance of spirit, from his brief encounter. 

Two years later, M. Larpent went to Kemsing to ask 
Hugh for a MS. of the late Archbishop, dealing with the 
Apocalypse, which Hugh possessed : Miss Benson had 
begged M. Larpent to look through it. Quantum mutatus ! 
Hugh was dressed in a cassock ; he wore a crucifix in his 
belt. He was intent upon that '' catholicising " of the 
parish at which he hints in the Confessions. He had to 
travel warily. The rector and himself used Hnen vest- 
ments, lights, and wafers, but only at the early cele- 
brations. At midday the squire attended, and the 
squire, though kindly, was Low Church. Yet the Euchar- 
ist was already dear to Hugh, and he suffered from this 
accepting of persons. Once, to the village's amaze, he 
carried the sacrament from the altar to the sick. He 
read the service slowly and with pauses — a habit he 
afterwards repudiated — and sometimes wearied (as a 
Kempis feared might happen) those assisting. A clergy- 
man declared that he was selfish at the altar. M. Larpent, 
who had been educated in that Catholic faith to which 
Hugh watched him, later, step by step return, had re- 
tained intact his love for the Mother of God, and gave to 

^ Hugh more than once alludes in letters to his loathing for dances, the 
likelihood of which, indeed, can lead him to refuse invitations to sojourns, pleasant 
else, in country houses. After a dinner, too, he writes to his mother that he 
finds he hates young ladies more than he thought possible. ... I believe that 
like many people, for all that, he enjoyed dancing, hateful in prospect, once 
he had begun to dance. 


Hugh that icon known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, 
in which the instruments of the Passion are presented by 
angels to the contemplation of the Divine Child and His 

Hugh's churphmanship, in these circumstances, raced 
upwards. He goes regularly, four times in the year, to 
London for confession, and is congratulated by his con- 
fessor on his Catholic instincts. He joins the English 
Church Union, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacra- 
ment, and the Guild of All Souls. For all that, he con- 
sidered himself a stalwart anti-Roman. The English 
spirit was what he boasted of, possessed in the seventh 
century by the national Church before she joined herself 
to Rome, and in the sixteenth, after she rejected the papal 
tyranny. In the older edition of the Litany, Hugh found 
a petition which delighted him, " From the Bishop of 
Rome and all his detestable enormities good Lord deliver 
us." The Greek Church was still the subject of applause, 
and the Italian Mission of contempt. Hugh chuckled 
with glee when he perceived that, on the occasion of 
the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving Service, held 
on the steps of St. Paul's, the coped bishops wore, if not 
real mitres, at least a headgear of glittering, though varied, 
types. The papal legate would have to tell the Pope how 
the Bishop of London had on a " superb gold skull-cap 
which was very nearly as good as a mitre." And he was 
delighted when a clergyman in the crowd was mistaken 
for a Roman priest. How one recognises here the forced 
and rather nervous banter of younger men, " smart " even 
in their religion, and offering as yet no clue as to the 
direction in which their maturing instincts are to carry 
them, nor even whether their instincts will mature. . . . 

In Hugh, however, there was no fear lest deeper 


thoughts should not prevail. The charm of ritual itself 
gave him from time to time the sick apprehension that 
possibly it might be but a drug. The chancel brass of a 
certain pre-Reformation priest, Thomas de Hope, had 
irony in its glance.^ The papal decision against Anglican 
Orders moved him less indeed than might have been 
expected, but left him with a " bruised sensation " in his 
soul ; again, he was made to feel himself something of an 
"outsider." . . . Above all, he was feeling (M. Larpent can 
recall) that the sobriety of Anglicanism lacked fire and 
the will to soar. . . . Hugh realises that even the work to 
which he here gives himself lacks, as did the Eton Mission, 
something that he is seeking. He took delight in the 
choir, which in Mr. Marshall's hands reached a perfection 
quite extraordinary in the circumstances — for Kemsing 
was but a small community of villagers ; and the plays 
to which he gave himself heart and soul were a remarkably 
civilising influence. I speak of them briefly, from the 
dramatic point of view, below ; here I will but emphasize 
that they were no trivialities, like the Rose and the Ring 
of Hackney. Music, orchestra, scenery, costume, and 
even professional training were so perfect that, says 
Mr. A. Marshall, Hugh could keep up his performance to 
crowded houses for a week, people coming from all the 
country round, and even from London, to see them. 

The children came eagerly up for rehearsal and for 
training, and as the time drew on for the great week, we 
had them with us almost all day and every day. It had 
a remarkably good effect in softening their speech and 
their manners, and in raising their intelligence. In this 
small village, after the first rather rough performance, 

* "It is the oldest half bust in England," and may date from 1340-1350. 
Thomas de Hope died at Kemsing in 1347. He occurs in The Coward, and 
indeed Medhurst village, there described, is a rather severe caricature of Kemsing. 


there was never any difficulty in finding young actors and 
actresses of surprising ability for the chief parts, and the 
thirty or so who took part were all much more than com- 
petent. I have since seen several much advertised troupes 
of village players, but in the third play that Hugh wrote 
for the Kemsing children, they were far and away better 
than any of them. If he had stayed on there, I am sure 
that the Kemsing village players would have become re- 
nowned throughout England. 

Perhaps the list of pencilled names of Kemsing children, 
wishing him good-bye, are among the tenderest relics 
bequeathed by any part of his life. 

" He had a simple and direct way with children," writes 
his brother, " equally removed from both petting and autho- 
ritativeness. His own natural childlikeness came out ; and 
indeed all his life long he preserved the innocence, the im- 
pulsiveness, the mingled impatience and docility of a child 
more than any man I ever saw." 

Reference to his work among children occurs almost at 
once in his letters to his mother, which " give so exactly," 
she writes to me, "the stir and sparkle of him, and his 
almost childlike delight at a beginning like that. . . ." 

Mr. Skarratt and I do various things. I have not done 
much visiting yet, but I have been to a few houses with 
him. But I have begun to teach in the schools, and it is 
wonderful how different a day school is from a Sunday 
school. The cane looms behind, and that makes an im- 
mense difference. Besides, in this place everyone seems to 
have a natural awe for clergy. Everybody bobs when they 
meet me, just as if one was a lord duke riding through 
tenants' cottages. 

By the way, Mr. Skarratt has told me to ride his horses 
whenever I want. He keeps two lovely black horses. And 
I have been learning the bicycle. . . . [This letter is much 

Preaching, too, was a gift which then began to reveal 


<' Everything," writes Mr. A. Marshall, " that he said 


had been well prepared beforehand, and he did not depart 
from it, though he seemed to be preaching extemporarily. 
He spent most of his mornings writing out his sermons 
and preparing his addresses and school lessons. I would 
go up sometimes and find him at his desk, which, however, 
he would occasionally leave to go into another room where 
there was a piano, or to read a few pages of a book in 
which he was interested, or for a few minutes' talk. I 
never remember him at any time so deeply absorbed in his 
work that he disliked being interrupted or interrupting 
himself. He had the power of rapid concentration, or he 
could never have produced the amount that he did after- 
wards in the midst of all his other activities. When he 
had written his sermons, I think his system was to read 
them over several times to get them fixed in his head. But 
he did not learn them by heart or prepare for any ela- 
borate effects. Nor did he study oratory at all. What 
eloquence he had was natural to him, and was based upon 
interest in his subject and his impetuous habit of mind 
and speech. As his mind became more stored, his need 
for self-expression greater, and his powers of speech more 
flexible, he might have been expected, from the signs he 
then showed, to become a great preacher." ^ 

Later on, this developing gift will lead him, after taking 
part in a parochial Mission, to look to regular mission work 
under Canon Carter, the Canon Missioner of the diocese. 
Quite apart from the fact that the Canterbury Chapel, 
where he would have ministered, was to have none of that 
ritual which alone, he now believed, adequately expressed 
the faith he held, his plan came visibly to nothing after 
half an hour's talk with Archbishop Temple, "kind, but 
peremptory." He was told he was too young, and he went 
back to Kemsing. 

But well before this the old desire for community life 
had been taking shape. Mr. Molesworth, as was said 

1 He modelled himself, M. Larpent thinks (though I should say the obedience 
to a model was unconscious), upon Lacordaire ; and Hugh praised the Vie de 
Ste. Madeleine by that writer, " livre faux et pervers," as M. Larpent judges it. 


above, had been visiting Little Gidding. To him Benson 
wrote one or two letters, which I quote almost in full : 

Thb Vicarage, Kemsing, 
Aug. 26, 1897. 

Dear Molesworth, — Thank you so much for your 
letter and most interesting account of Little Gidding. 
How glorious it all sounds ! My heart burns within me. 

I do wish a brotherhood could be managed there. The 
ideal would be that the patronage of the living should be 
vested in trustees — that is the only safeguard. I would 
come like a shot, after a little longer time here, if you 
thought there would be a chance of establishing a brother- 
hood there ; and I believe I know two or three people who 
would come too. But I should have to stop here another 
year first. Do make inquiries and see what could be 

One would have to get clear what one's intention would 
be there. Would it be to work parishes that the Bishop 
wanted temporary help for — or to take Missions in the 
diocese — or to make a "Novate Novale," ^ as there is in 
the Canterbury and Lincoln and, I think, Truro dioceses ; 
or all three of these things. 

Will you really find out about it all, and write to me 
again. It has been my ideal for years. 

I am going down to preach at Canterbury on Sunday 
evening next. My heart sinks within me — I shall prob- 
ably be dumb when I get to the pulpit. — Yours ever. 

Kemsing Vicarage, Skvenoaks, 
Oct.^, 1897. 

Dear Molesworth, — I am sorry about Little Gidding ; 
but on thinking it over, I fancy that I should not be able 
to go there for a year or two in any case, as I feel I do 
want more experience and more hard work, physically, 
before settling down to the life that you describe. I agree 
with what you say, very much, about the devotional aim 
of the Society there — a kind of backwater, not in the stag- 
nant, but in the peaceful sense, where people could rest 
if necessary. 

I have been approached with regard to my accepting 
a living, but I have quite decided not to do so until I 

^ A Society for Mission Priests founded by Archbishop Benson when 
Chancellor of Lincoln in 1875. 


have been at least three years in priest's orders. And that 
will not be till Christmas year. 

Your predecessor is coming down to preach at our 
Harvest Festival next week. I forget whether you have 
met him. He is a rock of faith to many rich people in 
London — extraordinarily holy. 

I am tired to death of Harvest Festivals ; I have lately 
preached at four. They puzzle me dreadfully. At their 
worst they are purely pagan ; at their best they are a 
substitute for Corpus Christi Day. For the latter I think 
they are most useful, as one has really no fixed oppor- 
tunity for urging the duty of Communion. ^ 

The Little Gidding scheme of course fell through 
(though powerfully stimulated by the example of the 
Anglican nuns at East Mailing, where High Church prac- 
tices obtained to an extent as yet unexperienced by Hugh), 
but there was a moment when the possibility of joining 
a brotherhood founded by Canon Mason suggested itself 
to him. It was the Community of the Resurrection, how- 
ever, which finally riveted to itself his aspirations. 

This Community had been founded by the present 
Bishop of Oxford when, as Canon Charles Gore, he was 
head of the Pusey House there. After a brief sojourn at 
Radley it migrated to its present home in Yorkshire. At 
the time of which we are telling. Dr. Gore was living in 
the Little Cloister, in Westminster, ''an oasis," writes M. 
Larpent, " de pri^res et d'^tudes dans I'abbaye morte." 
To him Hugh presented himself as a probationer with 
the Archbishop's permission to resign his curacy. Some 
opposition was offered by his family on the grounds of 
his impulsiveness and inexperience of life and of the 

* Hugh caricatured this theory of Harvest Festivals in the pitiless sketch 
of Mr. Stirling in The Sentimentalists. Mr. Stirling found that the loaves used at 
such festivals carried all the " teaching " of Corpus Christi, without its materialistic 


ministry. I summarise a letter of the Canon to Mr. A. C. 
Benson, written on July 9, 1898 : 

I dare say your estimate of your brother is the true 
one. ... I told the Archbishop and your mother that I 
preferred a man to have had more parochial and general 
experience than your brother has had before coming to us ; 
but that I wished to admit him, partly because of his own 
strong wish — so strong, it seemed to me, that to refuse him 
would be an over-great discouragement to him . . . [the 
Canon insists on this at some length], and partly because 
I thought he greatly wanted the discipline of study and an 
ordered life. On this ground the Archbishop allowed him 
to resign his curacy in order to come to us. 

I am sure that he ought to be admitted to a year's 
probationary discipline. That will be purely to the good. 
[The vows, he reminds Mr. Benson, are only '' yearly," and 
"our life is very much not an 'enclosed ' one."] 

I do not think one can take the place of Providence in 
arranging when, or under what circumstances, sorrow, sin, 
and failure are to enter into the substance of a man's heart 
and life. But I would not have you think that our life is 
sheltered from contact with these as they exist in ordinary 
human lives. 

Mrs. Benson wrote to Mr. A. C. Benson on July 12, 1898, 
that this letter of Canon Gore's "expresses so much my 
own feeling in the matter that I probably like it better than 
you do. It is difficult to see what else Canon Gore could 
have done, as Hugh is distinctly his own master, and, you 
see, it doesn't bind him to anything, and it is true he wants 
* an ordered life.' " 

On the same day M. Larpent wrote to Mr. A. C. Benson 
a letter which is doubly illuminative, for our knowledge of 
Hugh, and of Hugh's environment : 

July 12, 1898. 

My own theological position is extremely orthodox, but 
as I am an antiquarian, the consequence is that I am 
extremely moderate in all my views. Yet^ I should not 
object in the least to Hugh's opinions or formal sacer- 


dotalism and vows of celibacy if your brother could do 
what Plato calls, BcSovaL Xoyov. ... If I could convince 
myself that he has kis own philosophy of life, his own well- 
reasoned conviction, supported by well-defined arguments, 
his own system of thought and conduct, I should withdraw 
at once all my objections. What alarms me is that he has 
made up his mind, and does not give the reason of his 
determination. Of course he gives some reasons, but I do 
not feel that they are his own. 

I am sorry he is not sensitive and receives advice with 
complete When I saw him at Kemsing I implored 
him to spend a few years quietly reading some of the 
books which the Archbishop left him. I wanted him to 
do a Cyprian of his own. But he reads not ! I deeply 
love him, and I am greatly honoured by the confidence 
which he places in me, but I feel powerless. You are quite 
right in not doing more than you have done. He must 
try that sort of life. But between you and me, my dear 
friend, it is distressing to see that his quest of celibacy 
will after all be decided after a short novitiate. It involves 
the philosophy of a whole life. I do not know Gore. I 
hope he will not advise ev Kv^oa. . . . 

P.S. — Of course you fully realise what a consolation it 
would have been for me if I had found in him a student's 
mind ! He might have begun a great work, the work of a 
whole life, and I should have been so happy to help him at 
the beginning ! Fancy studying TertuUian with him, or 
Augustine ! The personal grief is real, but after all I want 
him to be happy and follow his own way. 

Hugh had refused a good offer of a living, explaining to 
his brother that he needed discipline, was far too comfort- 
able, and was going to succeed in missionary rather than 
in pastoral work. 

His brother asked him, in return, whether 

he might not perhaps find the discipline he needed in 
doing the pastoral work which did not interest him, rather 
than in developing his life on lines which he preferred, . . . 
But I did not understand Hugh at this date. It is always 
a strain to find one whom one has always regarded as a 
boy, almost as a child, holding strong and definitely matured 


views. I thought him self-absorbed and wilful — as indeed 
he was — but he was pursuing a true instinct and finding 
his real life.^ 

Still, from Hugh's own letters, it may be, we shall 
obtain the best expression of that point of view, at least, 
which he offered to the public. He wrote — the letter has 
no date — to his brother : 

. . . Thank you very much for your letter about my 
going in. I certainly agree that in a very large number of 
cases a call is contrary to inclination. On the other hand, 
is not a parochial life also a matter of call ? It seems to 
me that the clerical life is either a married life or a 
community life. I feel from every conceivable point of 
view that I am not called to a married life — the neutral 
ground that lies between that and a community life is as 
equally impossible — and to me, therefore, the community 
life seems normal, not abnormal at all. I do not quite see 
why it should be regarded as abnormal by everyone. It 
is not the monastic life proper, but the secular, surrounded 
with peculiar aids to devotion and study. . . . And the fact 
that one's inclination is on the same side is scarcely a solid 
argument against it. To use it as an argument reminds 
me of a certain sentence in Arthur Hamilton^ that per- 
secution is not a proof that God is on our side. 1 mean 
the fact that a life is pleasurable is no indication either 
way very much. ... I will do my best to disentangle what 
I want from what I will. 

Finally, to Mr. Molesworth he wrote as follows : 

The Vicarage, Kemsing, 
July 22, 1898. 

My dear Molesworth, ... I am not sure whether 
I told you of my future plans. It is now finally settled that 
I enter as a probationer in the Community of the Resur- 
rection at the end of September. I go into retreat with 
the brethren on the 26th, and then go with them to Mir- 

' Hugh, p. 92. 

^ Arthur Hamilton was a book written by Mr. A. C. Benson in 1887 under 
the pseudonym "Christopher Carr." 


field. It seems to me that this Community entirely satisfies 
one's desires. They are not so rigid as Cowley ; there 
seems to be a more family spirit among them ; and I admire 
Canon Gore, the Superior, extremely. 

I have often wondered whether your thoughts had ever 
turned to that Community. 

May I ask your prayers for me in this new life ? 

Here we are in a great fuss and hurry — another chil- 
dren's pantomime coming off next week — and the house 
is full of dresses and golden crowns. I hope it will go 
off well. 

Things go on here much as usual. I am terribly sorry 
to leave, for some reasons, but have no doubt that I am 
doing right. 

There is undoubtedly distinct discipline at Mirfield, and 
I don't know how far one will stand it. This house is extra- 
ordinarily pleasant, but extraordinarily undisciplined. No 
particular rules for anything in the world. It will be a 
sharp change. 

The world is rather tumbling about me altogether. The 
priest to whom I go to confession is getting married, and 
I am wondering whether I shall continue to go to him. 
I fancy not — particularly, as I shall be up in the north for 
so long. 

Do send me a line to wish me well. 

I think too much fuss is being made about this " Crisis " 
in the Church. I don't believe a " Crisis " exists at all ; 
and if it does, whatever of it does, certainly is all for the 
good, and leads to sobriety and quietness. Personally I 
should not be overwhelmed with sorrow if a few priests 
seceded to Rome. It would be bitter for the moment, but, 
I have no doubt, would lead to more fruit in the future, as 
to respect for authority. — Ever yours, 

Hugh Benson. 

Hugh therefore left the pleasant places of the south 
for the unlovely Yorkshire town. He went in search of 
discipline to a house which he was destined to leave in 
pursuit of an authority yet more comprehensive. Kemsing, 
with its delightful occupations, was allowing him, he felt, 
to squander himself almost as a man of grosser bent wastes 
himself over pleasure. Mirfield will be unable to provide 


for his intellect that direction which its restless, yet timorous 
character demands. He leaves the village where his indi- 
vidualism had perhaps had too free a scope, and his self- 
development had risked turning into self-indulgence : he 
must plunge into community existence and sink his 
aggressive personality in the general life. Yet none can 
say that at Mirfield he succeeded in reducing himself to 
" type " : perhaps at Mirfield, and indeed there especially, 
there was no type to which the orthodox should conform. 
Certainly Hugh never became typical of anything at Mir- 
field, any more than he had been one in type with Mr. 
Skarratt, M. Larpent, or, earlier, Mr. St. Clair Donaldson 
or Dean Vaughan. With all the enthusiasm, but with less 
than the pain which Francis Thompson prophesies for the 
artist, " he lived his life ; he lived his life." 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 

Quelque chose de calme, de pauvre et de fort enveloppe la coUine. Tout est 
clair et parle sans artifice a I'ame. . . . 
Et la chapelle r^pond : 

— Je suis la regie, I'autorit^, le lien ; je suis un corps de pensees fixes et la 
cit^ ordonn^e des ames. 

— J'agiterai ton ame, continue la prairie. Ceux qui viennent me respirer se 
mettent d poser des questions. 

Mais la chapelle nous dit : 

— Visiteurs de la prairie, apportez-moi vos r^ves pour que je les epure, vos 
^lans pour que je les oriente. 

Maurice Barres (Za CoUine Inspirie). 


The house to which Hugh went in September, 1898, is 
built on the high ridge which faces south across the valley 
of the Calder. Mirfield is on the junction of the London 
and North-Western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire 
Railways ; other lines run through it : Leeds, Huddersfield, 
Wakefield, Bradford, surround it. Over the whole land- 
scape, save when rains have washed it, a film of soot has 
settled. In rain itself, it is dismal beyond words. Yet the 
scene has its fascination. At sunrise, Turner would have 
worshipped it ; in almost any weather. Whistler would 
have loved its fugitive effects. At night, the whole valley 
is romantic with the green and crimson lamps of signals 
and the rush of trains. There are spring or autumn after- 
noons when the sunlight, quivering in the birch and 
mountain-ash trees, numerous all around, transfigures 

the whole country-side. Benson, like all artists, was 


MIRFIELD, 1 898-1 903 147 

sensitively aware of the qualities and variations of light.^ 
" It is a divine spring evening," he writes from Mirfield 
in April, 1902, "... all smoky and hazy in brilliant 
sunshine. I love days like these." 

As you climb the long hill from Mirfield or Battyeford 
station, it is the dark red stonework of the unfinished 
Community church which you first meet upon your left, 
projecting towards the hill-face. This Benson never saw. 
Below arc the buildings of the Theological College, which 
were begun during his stay at Mirfield. Then comes the 
house itself, approached through lodge-gates by a drive. 
It was built by an opulent mill-owner, and its architecture 
is entirely characteristic of the district. The Fathers 
have to submit to walls of a pale stone which blackens 
rapidly ; slate roofs ; windows surcharged with ornament, 
and porches flanked by columns of a livid-coloured marble. 
The new refectory and the added wings for guest-house 
or for retreats, are of rougher stonework, and in a Per- 
pendicular style at once more simple, more graceful, and 
more dignified. 

Solidity and warmth, however, cannot be denied to 
the older building : the entrance hall, with its staircase 
and gallery, are generously designed ; the corridors and 
rooms are in no way unlike those of most modern religious 
houses which have been added to bit by bit. 

The house, then, is fenced off from the road by the 
orthodox flower-beds, lawn, and trees ; on the valley side, 
a terrace is succeeded by fields and then woods as far as 

* Perhaps his consciousness of light was developed hy John Inglesant. Often 
you will find Shorthouse's phrases almost verbally reproduced by him, especially 
when it is the " mellow radiance " of afternoon which soothes him, or the light, 
held, as it were, in solution by the air of dawn, which intoxicates him. But his 
fether too had had this sympathy with light. He is always noticing, and noting, 
it. In his diary, 23rd March 1850 has this only entry: "The strange light on 
the old Court after Evensong." 


what is a genuine cliff-face of rock, and, at one point of 
this, confronting the seething life beneath it like any 
Calvary of Breton or Spanish coast, stands a tall crucifix. 
To the left lies a quarry, and to the right the ground falls 
rapidly into a kind of pocket in the hill, and here, sur- 
rounded on all sides by rocks and trees and brambles, 
no sign of human interference anywhere visible, a man 
might in a moment put himself into retreat. That Hugh 
came here often is certain, since he went to the trouble 
of making a path and steps up to the higher levels, still 
called "Hugh's Path" by those who remember it, for, 
with the cutting of a wider track, the use and the memory 
of the humbler stair are disappearing, and the work he did 
upon the hillside is half hidden by the brambles. 

Below all this lie the road, the blackened river, the 
canal, the branching railways, the huddled stony town. 
Then the valley rises into its further slope. 

Within the house Hugh Benson found, doubtless, the 
discipline he needed, and yet in no sense an austerity of 
life which quenched his spirit. Modern religious con- 
gregations tend, I suppose, to increasing the rigidity of 
their original organisation rather than relaxing it ; and 
Mir field, which to-day is Lazarist, so to say, in tone, was 
then (as a Cowley Father put it) Oratorian rather than 
monastic, and was animated by a family spirit which, 
with the gradual strengthening of its tissues, has not 
wholly evaporated. 

The Community in Hugh's time rose at 6.15 ; at 6.50 
the Prayer-book office of Mattins was recited, followed 
by a version of Prime. At 7.15 the Eucharist was 
celebrated by one member only of the Community, for, 
in the intention of the Mirfield Fathers, the social aspect 
of the common Oblation is thus emphasized. Breakfast 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 149 

followed, in silence; Terce was said at 8.45, Meditation 
followed at 9.0. This was made, as a rule, in the Chapel 
or in private rooms ; Hugh characteristically preferred 
the garden. Dinner at 1.15 followed Sext at i.o ; tea 
was after None at 4.15. Evensong was said at 7.0 ; 
supper was at 7.30, Compline at 9.45, and the lights were 
officially extinguished at 10. 

This was the order of Hugh's day, and it has not been 
altered substantially in our own. Its setting, however, at 
least as far as the religious services are concerned, has 
changed considerably. In May, 1902, a new chapel was 
being made, Hugh's own room with two others being 
thrown into one for that purpose. When the big church 
was sufficiently advanced, the Community resorted to it 
for their devotions, and these are now said in a special 
chapel there. When it is completed, chapels of the 
Nativity, the Holy Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, 
and the Holy Spirit, will make a crown about the High 
Altar ; to-day, only one other altar, that to which Hugh, 
in the old chapel, was accustomed, stands in the nave. 
A plaster statue of Mary holds forth the Divine Child for 
worship, and lights flicker before the crucifix. In this 
sombre, somewhat Byzantine church, the usus Anglicanus 
obtains, which is not exactly Sarum (a ritual to be seen 
in its splendour at, for instance, St. Agnes, Kennington), 
but is accurately based, we learn, upon the use in a 
majority of pre-Reformation English parishes. Hence 
artists among the brethren can satisfy their eye with 
vestments of rich penitential blue ; and Lenten white, too^ 
is noticeable at Mirfield. Hugh designed two altar-cloths 
in these tinctures : the white one bears upon it the 
heraldry of the Passion, appliqud in sombre red ; the field 
is goutti with great drops of blood. Over the crimson 


background of the other spreads a great tree of life in 
blue ; the same escutcheons hang from its branches, and 
the legend tells how the tree of death has borne a fruit 
of life. This ritual itself developed slowly. Coloured 
vestments came in owing to Benson's help ; the Lambeth 
" opinions " governed the use of incense ; a sanctuary lamp 
was lighted, annoyingly, to Benson's logical view, for it 
shone sentry to no tabernacle. 

Silence was more strictly observed, as in most Catholic 
communities, from the end of evening "recreation" till 
after breakfast. On the other hand, there was no rule 
for the putting out of private lights ; and it was jokingly 
said that in the morning nothing in the world would get 
Hugh out of bed "but the sound of one of the Fathers 
saying his prayers in the bathroom." From breakfast 
to dinner " lesser silence " was to be observed ; that is, 
conversation was to be brief and on necessary subjects. 
With all the good-will in the world, Hugh never could 
carry this out. His neighbour's door would be agitatedly 
opened, with or without a knock. Hugh, who had just 
written something he liked, or in whose brain some sudden 
idea had taken fascinating shape, would invade the worker. 
" I say, just 1-1-listen to this. ... I say, isn't this 
r-r-ripping." " Hush-sh," would come the answer. " Yes, 
I know," Hugh would urge, " but 1-look here . . . just one 
minute." And the excited talk went forward. 

After dinner, the probationer would retreat to his room 
with one or two special friends, and then, over the fire, 
"discuss the situation," as he called it. Certainly his 
tongue was sharper than he allowed it to be in later years ; 
yet he was noticeable for his unaffected geniality and good- 
will. Much tobacco, in the shape of halved cigarettes, 
soothed his nerves, till he resolved to rid himself of this 

MIRFIELD, 1 898-1 903 151 

chain. He chewed seeds, and all manner of strings and 
straws, to make up for the companionable drug. " By 
the way," he wrote, half-way through 1902, " I am giving 
up smoking. Haven't smoked a whiff for four weeks. 
But I won't swear it is for ever." Indeed it was not. 
From Rome he will write that he considers himself as 
good as " cured " ; he only smokes one cigarette or so 
a day. Before he dies it will be thirty or even fifty. 

After the conversation, exercise. He plays a childish 
cricket, and fives in the stable-yard. He was a difficult 
person to play against, one of his companions told me 
plaintively. He was an expert ; and, when one failed to 
make one's stroke, he jeered, and quickly became " purely 
vituperative." This exuberance of spirits found an outlet, 
too, in rapid walks and much digging up of plantains on 
the lawn. " Come and d-dig ! " he used suddenly to say, 
when the silence got on his nerves ; and, in flannels and 
an immense straw hat, he wrestled with the weeds, piously 
termed by him " original sin," for mere human effort found 
them ineradicable. A baptism of acid was devised, but 
proved inefficacious, and they still are there. He dug, 
too, the path mentioned above, and steps down to the 
quarry ; and in September, 1902, he wrote to a friend in 
India : 

It is good for people to dig, I believe. I am almost 
superstitious about that — good for their characters, I 
mean — you feel that you have reached fundamentals 
when you are sweating over a spade and your hands are 

I would include that kind of thing in the education 
of every boy I had to do with. Talking of education, 
there is a real row on, and the Dissenters are really 
behaving exceedingly badly — lying right and left. They 
have degenerated shockingly — quite unlike their fore- 


The whimsically spiritual interpretation, and the evocation, 
by a word, of an idea else not associated with his theme, 
are wholly characteristic. 

Beside these .labours of love, a certain amount of 
housework was general. The brethren made beds, broke 
coal, cleaned boots. For dress, they wore a loose cassock 
with a leather belt ; and though the head of the Com- 
munity, as long as Dr. Gore held that position, was known 
as " Senior," the name " Superior " soon came in, and the 
other priests were called " Fathers," in modern fashion. 
Benson strongly urged this change. A monastic element, 
too, was noticeable in the weekly " Chapter," when faults 
against the Rule were confessed publicly by the brethren 
on their knees. 

At Christmas, Father Benson sent to his mother a 
number of "Christmas Cards" sketched in pen and 
coloured chalks upon half-sheets of notepaper. The 
rather chill buildings of the monastery figure twice, and 
are more seriously drawn ; most of the sketches are 
humorous, and display, in kindly caricature, the daily 
occupations of the Fathers. A sturdy " Hebdomadarius," 
in black coat over his fluttering nightshirt, hair touselled, 
feet red-slippered, jangles his bell down the bleak corridor ; 
cassocked figures shave in bathrooms ; carry brooms and 
pails down the same green-doored passages ; sit, with 
heads plunged in newspapers, in an austere breakfast- 
room, or bowed above theological treatises in the library, 
or hasten, " late again," towards the relentless door. For 
"dissipation," they are pictured as playing battledore and 
shuttlecock over a clothes-line hung with newspapers for 
nets, cassocks temporarily laid aside, or, three by three, 
with uplifted finger pointing their theological debate, 
patrolling the village street, where the very dogs pause to 

MIRFIELD, 1 898-1903 153 

contemplate the pious spectacle. " An Appalling Scene in 
a Modern Religious House " seems to display the " walling- 
up" of some refractory monk by two British workmen, 
shocked and stolid respectively ; black-habited inquisitors 
in the background urge on the work.i In two mysterious 
companion drawings, a bishop is first seen, writing his 
" charge " at a table on an overhanging and crumbling 
mountain ledge. A workman with a gun, and a black- 
coated, top-hatted figure — is he a Nonconformist minister ? 
— holding a huge life-preserver, stand behind him. A 
distant Pope beckons another layman and a birretta'd 
priest to Rome. In the second picture, the workman has 
fired, his companion has hurled his life-preserver, the 
rock has split, and the Bishop with all his paraphernalia 
is sent flying. From afar, on the road to Rome, two tiny 
figures look back to the catastrophe. 

These relics have their pathos. They may serve, too, 
to show that Hugh could stand back and see himself and 
his companions in all the quaintnesses incidental to their 
nobly-chosen life, and could defy all alien laughter by 
having been himself the first to laugh; and, best of all, 
that in his own laughter there was no slightest note of 
bitterness ; his caricature is of the kindliest ; the desire to 
hurt never stirred within him ; he was, for the time, at his 
happy ease in the Mirfield Sion. 

This first year was almost wholly spent in prayer and 
study, though we find traces of slight external activity. He 
gives a lantern lecture on the Holy Land in aid of the 
" Jerusalem Fund," and foresees another on Egypt, for 

^ An unfinished sketch, called " Paid by the Day," shows another group of 
workmen drawn with a genuine sense of character, value of line, and firmness of 
touch. The rest are still the work of a clever schoolboy with quick eye and 
supple though untrained hand. 


which he will have to " read up Baedeker." ^ And on 
March i, 1899, he writes to the Rev. J. H. Molesworth, 
apropos of a recent Anglican controversy : 

We English bark a great deal. It is better than vicious 
snarling. I really do not think there is very much vice on 
either side, though a terrible lot of dust and noise. We 
shall all be sitting with our tongues lolling out presently, 
smiling at one another. I am barking in my poor way at 
my Men's Bible Class ; but they won't bark back — they 
only grin like a dog, and take it admirably. 

His strictly theological and historical studies we shall 
describe later : in literary works of two or three depart- 
ments he was always interested. 

During his years at Mirfield the books he mentions are, 
of course, John Inglesant, and with this, what became for 
him a kind of pagan Inglesant, Walter Pater's Marius 
the Epicurean; and, indeed, quite apart from the some- 
what similar pilgrimage traced by these two young men, 
singularly refined, sensitive, and open to religious experi- 
ences in either case, towards the practice of Catholicism 
and of Christianity respectively, as magical a light broods 
over that picture of the Rome of the Antonines as upon 
the England of John's day, and few can escape the 
glamour diffused by Pater's prose. 

" I read Marius the Epicurean^' he writes, '' in the 
holidays — for the first time, I am ashamed to say. What 
a marvellous book it is 1 I desire to be a pagan." He 
turns this off lightly, with an allusion to an old professor 
in Athens, relegated to an asylum because he offered 
sacrifice and incense to Apollo and Athene in his domestic 
lararium — " a really charming old man, I expect " ; but the 

^ Not till next year did he give, with the Rev. C. Bickersteth, an itinerant 
mission in Cornwall, playing devil's advocate to his companion's expositions of 
dogma, though some assign it to 1899. Here is the motor-mission foreshadowed. 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 155 

influence went deep, and, when a Catholic in Rome, he 
will passionately beg that Marius may be sent him, in any 
form, from England.^ 

He loves this mixture of realism and glamour. In 
the spring of 1902 he had been to Ulysses at His Majesty's. 
Stephen Phillips, he considers, is 

really good ... he writes always on the large, simple human 
emotions — such as homesickness and jealousy of the 
simplest kinds — and isn't in the least elaborate or subtle ; 
and his words are suitable — large common words carefully 

It was charming to get into complete unreality again. 

In keeping with the last sentence is the following, written 
the same year : 

I have been reading Maeterlinck much lately. Do read 
every line of him you can lay your hands on, but above 
all his plays. They are wonderful — very morbid and odd 
and French, but really moving, not like Ibsen's fiddling 

I am quite sure that, had he seen Ibsen acted, the 
horrible heresy he here expressed would have been re- 
nounced. His love for Maeterlinck, on the other hand, 
had he seen Pellias et Milisande when he was taught to 
appreciate Debussy, would probably have grown firmer. 
As it was, he wrote in June, 1903 : 

I have read a lot of things lately — Maeterlinck, for 
example. He is, I believe, a sort of fever that one catches 
and recovers from ; but my temperature has been rather 
high about him for some time ; and shows no lowering. 
He seems to me a writer full of extraordinarily delicate 

^ " I am slowly tasting Marius through once more. What a book ! And would 
you kindly, sometime, state your views as to John Inglesant? I find that a 
master-key to people. Or, in another metaphor, it precipitates a solution." He 
wrote this in 1905. 


perceptions. The very dullest things become significant, 
with him to describe them. I wonder whether you agree 
at all. 

He had also been reading, "very mildly," George 
Sand ; whose name everybody " seems to have babbled 
from their cradle upwards, except me." She too, he 
finds, transfigures the commonplace ; but not like Maeter- 
linck, by making you feel that there are huge, mysterious 
Powers behind, but by making the very things and 
characters themselves interesting, quite apart from their 
" significance " and " symbolism." 

Huysmans too, and to a lesser extent Zola, seemed 
to him to achieve this transfiguring effect, though Huys- 
mans did it the more easily, as he "puts the whole thing 
into a mystical frame." He knew, but had not, I think, 
read his Lh-bas, nor Zola's less reputable works. In con- 
sequence it is hard to gather which of the latter author's 
books he could have seen, save, probably, Lourdes, and 
possibly Le Rive ; later, he read more of Huysmans beside 
La Cathtdraky including Lh-bas, though he resisted for 
a long time. At last he yielded to the argument that, as 
a priest (especially if interested, as he was, by Satanism 
and the morbidities of worship), he ought to. He bitterly 
reproached his counsellor ; his visualising brain tormented 
him with the pictures of impiety it had offered, and his 
crucifix, at Mass, became for a time a torment. I do 
not think he ever read A Rebours. Had he done so, or 
even its English legatee, The Picture of Dorian Gray, his 
character-drawing in The Sentimentalists might have been 
done with a firmer hand. Sir Richard Calmady, too, was 
a book with definitely morbid elements on which he found 
his views too complicated to write. 

Not that his reading had throughout this sicklied cast. 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 157 

He thoroughly liked Kipling, and studied On the Heels of 
De Wet, though this depressed him, and he found the 
Boer War " a dingy affair " ; he was " thankful for one's 
country's credit that it has somehow managed to stop." 
His sense of humour was often riotous: he "laughs 
himself sick" over stories which he records, sometimes 
twice, in letters, to the same person, and which need his 
inimitable telling to seem comical ; and he had an un- 
chastened taste in Limericks. His love for the occult is 
still there : 

"We told ghost stories," he writes to India in May 
1902, "last night till prayer-time — and I nearly had a fit 
with fright when I found myself alone in my room — with 
ghostly curtains round my bed [an absurd goblin is sketched 
in the margin, peering between two curtains]. I expected 
them to be parted by bony fingers, and a face to look 
through. And there were curious thumpings in the hall 
at II P.M. that terrified me. 

"My eldest brother has lately written some mystical 
stories which he has asked me to criticise.^ They are quite 
fascinating. Do you like that kind of thing ? Or are you 
too stegling and blowsy and healthy ? " 

Later on an attempt will be made to judge how far 
he took these impressions seriously, and how far he 
laughed at himself and them. Certainly, at this very 
time his healthful love for animals was as keen as ever. 

"Last week," he wrote on March 11, 1902, "I went to 
the Zoo with my brother. We had a splendid time — tipped 
keepers, and were taken behind the scenes. We had a 
cheetah's cage opened and scratched his head, and con- 
versed with a perfectly mad lion who was being kept in 
the dark. We tapped his cage from outside, and he 
positively foamed with rage and banged against the iron 
plate. It was like touching a button and letting off an 
explosion instantly. Then an ape spat at us insolently 
several times. ... It is a most fascinating place." 

^ The Hill of Trouble. 


He also went to hear some music " as recreation," but 
chiefly wants more Zoo, and spends lunch-time in the 
South Kensington Museum with the stuffed birds, and a 
little later gleefully writes : 

We are going to have a dog at last ! I am so pleased — 
an Irish terrier, and we have lately grown a rabbit on the 
estate — I am afraid they won't hit it off too well. He is a 
real wild rabbit who has appeared, and who feeds on the 
lawn in the evening. But I yearn for a parrot — that would 
put the gilded pinnacle on my hopes. 

The Irish terrier used to sleep under Father Benson's 
bed, and developed "a passion for flies whom i he eats 
in a gentlemanly manner off my window-pane. But they 
are not good for him." Yielding, however, to a darker 
passion for poaching, the dog, to Hugh's grief, had 
shortly to be got rid of. 

Yet even in the innocent life of bird and beast he 
would not refuse the stimulus to dwell on the uncanny. 
From Tremans, one July, he wrote that he had been 
listening to 

owls hooting and snoring at night. I love the sense of 
mystery that owls give one. We used to sit out and watch 
them after dinner, going like cruel ghosts after mice. Once 
or twice they appeared against the west sky, silhouetted, 
with a mouse in their claws. 

Of literary work during this first period, I doubt 
whether he did any (save, of course, the preparation of 
sermons and the like) other than the edition of his 
father's Prayers and Services. 

He had begun this before actually going to Mirfield, 
and a letter from Mrs. Benson survives in which she 
begs him to submit the manuscript to some one of a 
liturgical temperament who was also an intimate friend 

' Is it childish to notice the personifying pronoun ? 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 if9 

of the Archbishop's, and suggests Canon Mason, as 
having been " inside." He was helped, too, by the Rev. 
J. Julian, who wrote the notes to the Archbishop's hymns 
and translations in the famous Dictionary of Hymnology 
from information received direct from their author. The 
book appeared to his friends, as in the Preface he 
surmised it might, somewhat miscellaneous, not alone 
from the nature of its contents — public prayers and 
offices, private prayers, hymns — but from the somewhat 
vague and perfunctory character of the notes. Perhaps 
the book was rather rushed. Possibly the son lacked, 
not the admiration for the liturgy, but the scholarly 
knowledge of ancient prayer-forms which the father so 
amply possessed. None the less the book has a per- 
manent value as throwing light on certain aspects of the 
Archbishop's piety with which the English public, a 
very unliturgical body — certainly not likely to think of 
praying in Greek at any rate — could not, probably, be 

Of his spiritual and even intellectual development 
during this period little evidence is available. A small 
black note-book contains accurate outlines of all the 
Quiet Days and Retreats he made while at Mirficld, from 
January 4, 1899, onwards. But these are strictly resumes 
of the " points " explained by the giver of the Retreat, 
and, though interesting as a proof of the lofty ideal and 
of the mystical method set before the exercitant, they 
contain no hint of Hugh Benson's personal reflections 
or conclusions. The names of Fathers Bull, Sampson, 
Nash, Frere, and, especially, Charles Gore, recur at the 
head of these pages ; and it is to their biographies that 
an account of these ascetical exercises would properly 
belong. In themselves, these "days of recollection" and 


retreats differ in no substantial way from those to which 
Catholics are accustomed. Another note-book contains 
Meditations on the sacerdotal life and spirit, arranged 
for ten days. They are built strictly on the Ignatian 
lines ; two preludes, three points, and a colloquy. These, 
I confess, seem to me, from, purely internal and stylistic 
qualities, to be, if not original, at least written down 
more freely according to Hugh's own temperamental 
dictates.! " Intercessions " were a regular feature of 
Mirfield life, and followed Sext. This habit of regular 
and official "intercession" left a lifelong impress upon 
Hugh. Certainly it stimulated his interest in Miss H. M. 
Kyle's book. Bands of Love, spoken of below, and inspired 
his last small volume, Vexilla Regis, written after the 
outbreak of war in 19 14. In a small prayer-book entitled 
Sursum Corda, by Mrs. A. L. Illingworth and the Rev. 
W. H. Frere, and brought out on October 20, 1898, to which 
the present Bishop of Winchester had written a preface, 
he notes down the main anniversaries of his life, and adds 
lists of initials, partly of persons, partly of pious enter- 
prises, to the schemes of intercession included in the 
prayer-book. He inserts prayers to Mary for the Holy 
Souls, a picture of Our Lady, and a naively painted 
Chalice and Host for frontispiece ; and it is clear that 
his prayer-life is already fully Catholic* In fact, he tells 
us so himself in his Confessions (p. 67), adding that he 
said his Rosary regularly. This, I should indicate, neither 
was nor is a regular Mirfield custom, but a practice 

1 The Rev. G. W. Hart reassures me that they were practically original. 

* Three sermons belonging to this period survive : on Christmas, and its 
implied reversal of human standards of judging ; on the corporate life of the 
Church ; on the law of retribution. They are written throughout, with 
additions, but practically no erasures. Their theology is orthodox ; their style 
still contains too much of the "And nextly," "And then again," of the con- 
ventional preacher to be attractive. 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 161 

which, if not forbidden to the individual, would not be 
encouraged, still less officially sanctioned. 

Hugh Benson had been admitted as Probationer, with 
the Rev. Samuel Healy, who remained his very intimate 
friend, on October 4, 1898.^ By July, 1899, therefore, the 
year of Probation was running out, and the question of 
Profession rose above the horizon. By Profession was 
meant the taking of the three standard vows of poverty, 
chastity, and obedience, understood in this sense, that the 
candidate made a solemn promise to observe the rule of 
the Community for thirteen months, and declared his 
intention of remaining in the Order for life. These vows 
then contained no more essential permanency than did 
this intention : if this should flag, no dispensation was 
necessary, but departure could take place automatically at 
the end of the period of months. It could also be allowed, 
imposed, or refused before this. The vow of obedience 
was understood in the usual way : external obedience was 
required, save when conscience genuinely protested ; in- 
terior obedience was expected within the limits imposed 
by each man's psychic temperament. By chastity, celi- 
bacy was meant. There was no suggestion, I gather, that 
marriage attempted in defiance of this vow was null and 
void.* Poverty implied that a man's capital remained in- 
tact to him, but his income was handed over to the 
Community. The dictum, moreover, Quidquid monachus 
acquirit, monasterio acquirit, was recognised : books written 
at Mirfield remained a source of revenue to the house ; 

^ This is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, to whom he had from these early 
days a genuine devotion. He regarded him as the pattern of that childlikeness 
and simplicity for which, as his letters show, he was constantly praying. 

* Mirfield, a lady penitent of Hugh's considered, was " a sort of prison where 
clergymen are made to do as they are told, and generally humbugged." " No," 
Father Benson answered, "I am a monk, and cannot marry." I fancy this 
sarcasm was quite unconscious. 

I L 


thus, The Light Invisible proved lucrative long after its 
author's disappearance. Beth, Mr. A. C. Benson tells us,^ 
used to make him little presents, and " at intervals lament 
his state of destitution." " I can't bear to think of the 
greedy creatures taking away all the gentlemen's things." 

In 1899, however, Benson did not feel himself in a mood 
suited to profession. He continued, therefore, experi- 
menting, and embarked upon a life fuller of external work 
than he had hitherto attempted. From almanacks and 
letters it would be almost possible to reconstitute the 
list of places that he visited. After his retreat at Selwyn 
College, Cambridge, from September nth to 15th, it is 
Harvest Festivals and isolated sermons in the neighbour- 
hood of Mirfield that are at first noted ; he preaches 
twice in the open air near Huddersfield ; and gives a Mission 
of one week at St. John's Church, Sevenoaks. During it 
he preached daily to children at 9 a.m. ; at Evensong at 
5.30 ; and a special Mission sermon and instruction at 
8.30 P.M. From November 6 to 23 he spent his holiday 
chiefly, I think, at Tremans. No engagement-book for 
1900 seems to survive ; but his apostolic experiences during 
this and the following years had nothing of peculiar in- 
terest ; they increased steadily in number, and became 
probably more definitely " revivalistic " in character. They 
are, in fact, often enough actually called " Revival Weeks " ; 
he deliberately read Talmage^ before preaching, in order 
to " work himself up ; " and the mingling of Catholic dogma 
with Evangelistic fervour (which caused a certain clergy- 
man to delight him by speaking of his preaching as half 
Wesleyan, half Romanist) remained with him, in a 
chastened fashion, all his life. He used gestures at 
this period far more than ever he did as a Catholic, and 

* Hugh^ p. 97, * The famous American Evangelical preacher. 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 163 

envied one of his colleagues ^ his amazing power of posi- 
tively acting the Passion story as he told it. 

There is no doubt that he enjoyed his variegated life to 
the full. He exults, often enough, in the prospect of 
returning to the peace of Mirfield, but after a fortnight's 
stay there he would grow restless. He gleefully writes 
round, in December, 1901, that he is staying in the Bank 
of England at Manchester, " for four sermons at St. Ann's." 
These followed a revival week at Wellingborough, and 
from January 19, 1902, he will have continuous work 
till Easter. On January 25 of that year he writes to his 
friend in India : 

I am working like two horses ; and whenever I have 
not anything else to do, sleep heavily in a chair. An 
endless vista of work stretches up to Easter, talking and 
talking. Just at present I am on a mission in a little 
country church — dull, heavy people who sit and stare and 
then go away dazed. They need an earthquake, and I 
can't give it them. I think I shall bust before I have 

He describes the country rectory with enthusiasm — an 
old spired church at the back — 

with tombs and Easter sepulchres and aumbreys and 
piscinae — and all the rest. But it smells of the dead — 
— and there I stand and rave three times a day at least. 
Southend is only a mile or two off, with its beastly parade 
and pier and band. 

This lament over popular indifference recurs, in his 
correspondence, almost like a refrain. 

On August 22, 1902, the Rev. G. H. S. Walpole (now 
Bishop of Edinburgh) wrote to him : 

... I should be appalled (if I saw it more clearly) at the 
general indifference to the existence of a spiritual world. 

1 The Rev. S. Healy. 


To some, not vicious people, I believe it would be a posi- 
tive relief if I could announce next Sunday that there was 
no such hope. As for any realisation of danger in sitting 
thus loosely and carelessly I see not a trace. The opinion 
Carlyle is credited with, is, I expect, widely common. 
" As for Jesus, he was a good young man disgusted with 
the shams and hypocrisies of his time which his soul 
couldn't abide." And yet such people are pleasant, 
agreeable, and interesting, very likeable and very much 
amused when the parson gets hot and presses home 

In March Benson writes again : 

Work is accumulating very much. I have engagements 
for nearly two years ahead — and feel as if I were caught 
in a machine and were being slowly drawn in. Do you 
know that sensation ? The only thing to do is not to 
think about it. 

But the '' treadmill sensation " is often enough alluded 
to by him. Already on December 6, 1901, he had written : 

The thing that one finds most trying in this work is the 
fact that one has to be "on the spot" every time. One 
can't do it in a routine sort of way. If one is just in a 
kind of dull level, one had better not be there. Parochial 
clergy can make up for a slack fit afterwards — and we 
can't. That really is a great strain. One gets to a place 
and has instantly to be at full steam and remain so until 
one goes — and that is trying to body and soul.^ 

None the less, when his activities could take on the 
colour of an adventure, even unpleasant, he revived. 
Open-air preaching was at once terrifying and exciting to 
him. In the July of 1902 he wrote : 

This month we begin preaching in the Quarry : and I 
am terrified to know that I have to take Sunday week. 
We have a brass band — and other pranks. 

^ In this same letter he alludes to a grievance destined to prove lasting : 
"X. looks a lot older. I wish I did: I have been informed of my youthful 
appearance twice to-day — and the second time by an aged man with a long 
beard — which especially annoys me." 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 165 

On September 25, he was just back from Lincoln : 

tired to death. Street-preaching every evening — followed 
by a sermon, &c., in church. We had such large and 
attentive crowds. The colliers stopped at once the very 
smallest attempt at disturbance ; and then a good many 
followed us into church. 

An interesting sidelight is thrown upon his work 
at this time by the Rev. C. Hart, now of St. Ninian's, 
Whitby : 

"I went," he writes, "on a Mission with him to St. 
Patrick's, Birmingham, in 1902. I remember how he 
dreaded it beforehand and was nervous ; how he semi- 
hypnotised three young fellows who came in one night and 
sat in the front row to sneer ; how he gave out the hymn, 
' Faith of our Fathers,' with this appended remark : ' By 
those fathers I do not mean Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, 
and that kind of person ! ' Probably nobody in the con- 
gregation except the clergy had heard of any of those 
divines. At the same Mission, after a few days of seem- 
ing failure, the people began to come up in flocks night 
by night, quite steady and unexcited, to renew their 
baptismal vows ; and he and I spent the last few days of 
the fortnight in church all day long seeing penitents, and 
only making flying visits to the clergy-house to snatch 
cups of tea. I can also remember being upset at first to 
find that after some very powerful and earnest sermon, 
he would at once adjourn to the house and begin reading 
a ' shilling shocker ' with all his might ; but I found that 
it was his way of giving a sedative to his brain, and that 
if he had not done something of the kind, he would have 
been too much excited to sleep, and so the next day's 
work would have suffered." 

He expresses a preference he was destined to mortify 
often enough in late years : 

I agree absolutely about bazaars. They are terrible — 
they are dishonest — undignified — silly — and, above all, 
tiresome beyond words. If I was going to give to an 
object, I would much rather give, than be swindled. I 
can't see the attraction at all. 


If I may venture an opinion upon this period of ex- 
ternal activity, it shall be that within it all he is making 
definite progress towards the spiritual and the interior. 
At first there are too many letters of the following descrip- 
tion : 

Jan. 26, 1900. 

... St. Paul's was quite gorgeous. Five copes ! [There 
follows the quaintest sketch of four beehive-like personages 
approaching a candled altar.] Four of the copees had not 

anything particular to do, but the fifth. Canon K , was 

celebrant. Beethoven in C : " O Saving Victim " 
(Gounod), " Hail, Festal Day " (Minor), and " Urbs beata." 
I nearly wept for joy. Two altar lights and two standards 
— a fairly large orchestra who went out in processions like 
the " Hegemoth " or something of King David. A vast 
congregation with comparatively few communicants. 

The following card was written (in a Latin emancipated 
from any obligation, it would seem, of following " ut final " 
by the subjunctive) from Market Harboro' on March 
22, 1901 : 

Gratias tibi ago, frater, pro epistola tua, hodie accepta. 
Moeror praesertim de doloribus tuis : sed equidem tam 
defessus sum ut tibi, etiam, invideo. Catarrham ctiam 
in capite tam tumcfactam ut mortuus esse desidero. 

Omnia spiritualia tamen bene satis progrediuntur. De 
Poenitentia elocutus, pavidus sum, sed poenitcntes et 
salutem esurientes expecto. Processiones per vias, non 
sine cruce luminibusque, furorem populi excitaverunt : 
nee sine lictore in pacem scrvandam procedebamus. Sed, 
benedictione Dei et protectione B.V.M. et Patroni Hugonis 
omniumque Sanctorum salvi fuimus e iracundia protes- 
tantum : et omnia tranquilla sunt. Ora, frater, pro 
nobis.— H. B.i 

^ Thank you, brother, for your letter, received to-day. I am especially sorry 
for your woes ; but on my side I am so tired that I actually envy you. [I have] 
too a cold in my head, so stuffed up that I wish I were dead. 

However, all spiritual business is going on well enough. I spoke on Penance, 
and am very frightened ; but I am expecting penitents and men hungry for 
salvation. Processions through the streets, not without cross and lights, excited the 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 167 

There is still too much of the young ritualist about this, 
who feels himself playing at a rather naughty game, 
calculated to tease the rival clique. 

Together with this rather frivolous preoccupation with 
ritual went what I can only allude to at the risk of hurting 
those for whom Benson himself felt, and expressed, a 
lifelong admiration and gratitude. That I should feel 
a little uneasy about the attitude of these missioners (in 
those early days) towards the practice of Confession, 
implies no kind of reflection upon the utter sincerity and 
self-devotion of the Mirfield confessors, nor do I want to 
attribute any essential value to the personal impression 
left on me by the letters of this period. Still, I cannot 
forget Benson's own description of the first confession he 
ever heard : how he led the unlucky Eton boy who made 
it into the Kemsing church, locked the door, "trembling 
with excitement, heard the confession, and then went back 
to the house with a sense of awful and splendid guilt." ^ 
Possibly. To defy Church authorities in ritual may indeed 
savour of naughtiness and, at times, of flippancy ; but 
to enter a Confessional, unprepared, unsanctioned, no 
question of examination, of faculties, or jurisdiction having 
even been raised, might indeed provoke a sense of guilt, 
though scarcely " splendid." The touch of excitement is 
felt in all these letters, that anxiously ask " How many 
confessions did you hear ? " " Did you shrive anyone ? " 
" Above all, try to beat up some confessions." Amateurish- 
ness in the confessional is supremely out of place. Now 
at least it will be agreed that, however wrong Confession 

fury of the people ; nor did we " precede " without a policeman for the preserva- 
tion of peace. But, by the blessing of God and the protection of the B.V.M. 
and of my patron St. Hugh and of all the Saints, we were saved from the wrath 
of the Protestants, and all is quiet. Pray for us, brother. — H.B. 
^ Confessions, p. 54. 


as a practice may be, the Church of Rome has an accumu- 
lated experience, and a tradition of extreme antiquity, 
a moral theology patiently and minutely elaborated and 
laboriously instilled into her Levites, which preclude much 
danger of amateurishness. Even so, it is normally with 
terror that the young priest enters for the first time his 
Confessional. Moral theology is even yet not officially 
taught, I gather, at Mirfield. That Benson conscientiously 
made a digest of all Lehmkuhl, omitting (as he entertainingly 
records) the sections on the Sovereign Pontiff as " irrele- 
vant," was exceptional. But he undoubtedly felt the need 
of training, and grew noted among two or three special 
friends as a very clever casuist. 

This note, as I most diffidently submit, of amateurish- 
ness made itself clearly heard in a case when he suggested 
to a sick penitent that she should receive Unction. 

June 22 (1902). 

Personally I am so ignorant about it all, that I dare- 
say it is quite wrong even to suggest it. But I cannot 
help fancying that a Christian would have a right to claim 
it in illness, quite apart from being in extremis. But it is 
difficult to get, and might be quite wrong. 

He consulted Father Frere, and wrote on July i, 1902 : 

There are apparently two methods of blessing oil — (i) 
Western, which must be consecrated by a Bishop, or, 
under certain circumstances, by seven priests ; (2) Eastern, 
which is not consecrated at all, but is taken from a 
lamp that burns before a holy image. Secondly, there 
is the development of its use which ends in Extreme 
Unction — and there is also the original practice, which 
was a kind of Catholic Faith-healing. 

Father Frere agrees that it is perfectly within the rights 
of a Christian to avail himself of this second use, so long 
as he is really ready to accept God's will. Father Frere 
also adds that while he would prefer a Bishop to bless it. 

MIRFIELD, 1 898-1903 169 

yet that he would not scruple to use oil blessed by a 
priest, if he could get no other. 

However, Father Benson promises to try and get some 
oil blessed by a Bishop in Scotland, if his penitent will 
try to get a priest who will consent to use it, and ends 
by recommending her to put herself " in the correct dis- 
position " of resignation, and also to disregard her people's 
view that her illness was " nervous." '* After all, the doctors 

I feel convinced that I shall not even be suspected of 
smiling at those Anglicans who are trying to restore to 
customary use those Sacraments which they recognise to 
have lapsed as part of their ecclesiastical life ; it is, one 
may say, Mirfield's programme to Catholicise England 
through the Sacraments , and Father Benson's spiritual 
direction, which from 1901 we are able to trace consecu- 
tively, was firm and wise, no less than enthusiastic. Ten- 
tativeness is a quality which, even at the beginning, it 
would be hard to find in it ; and Father Waldegrave Hart 
has told me that what surprised him not least in so young 
a man as Benson was his sureness of spiritual touch. 


From his whirlwind activity abroad, Benson used to 
return with infinite content to the haven of Mirfield. It 
is a great thing to possess a " haunt of peace," even if you 
use it chiefly as a repairing-dock in view of further excur- 
sions. But he really loved it, and by far the surest proof 
of this is that, during this period, even in his home he felt 
himself somewhat a fish out of water. Later on, when the 
change which, it might have been feared, would create 
a final severance, had been made, the atmosphere of 


Tremans was to him dear beyond most others. But in 
December, 1902, he could write : 

. . . The life here, which I love, makes one stupid in 
any other circumstances, and I can't fit in therefore at all 
with my people. ... It is rather dreary, but so it is. 

His attitude towards his associates at Mirfield was 
characteristic. He could be enthusiastic, but he was by 
no means undiscriminating. On certain days when the 
house was full of clerics, assembled for "quiet days," or 
the Hke, he would escape to a friend's room. " Save me ! " 
he would exclaim as he burst in, '<too many b-b-lack 
clergymen about." When, after the confusion which 
attended the election of Canon Gore to the Bishopric of 
Worcester in 1902, a new superior was finally appointed 
to the Mirfield Community, Benson wrote ecstatically of 
him that he was 

a lean man, a theologian, liturgiologist, hymnologist, scholar, 
musician, preacher, athlete, and a saint ! It is a good 
list, and he excels in each item, and withal a very 
pleasant human person. 

On the other hand, it was after an encounter with one 
of the brethren who got badly " on his nerves " that he 
had to wrestle seriously with himself in soul, and wrote 
thereupon the verses entitled In the Garden of a Religious 

He regretted immensely the disappearance of his 
Cambridge friends, yet never had he, I imagine, quite so 
sharp a tongue as at this period : 

" It seems to me quite extraordinary," he wrote to his 
correspondent in India, in 1902, "the way one has lost 
sight of people one knew at Cambridge. Really you are 
almost the only person I know now." 

" It's really awful," he wrote again, a good many months 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 171 

later, " the way I have lost sight of everybody I ever knew. 
With one consent they have ceased to pay the smallest 
attention to my existence, and I to theirs." 

To a few he alludes by name : 

"Yes," he wrote on March ii, 1902, of a man whom 
he had just called " a really good sort, of a kind" : 

Yes, undoubtedly X. is the "fat, big, good-natured 
youth." He always was that. It is a just revenge on Y. 
that he should have married an Oxford barmaid. He was 
a quite unspeakably odious boy. I don't think I have ever 
met such a worthless person. Z. is probably very nice by 
now. He was very funny as a boy. I remember his once 
telling me at the age of fourteen that he smoked, " not be- 
cause he thought it grand, but because really he couldn't 
get on without it." 

He mentions the death of Dolling — "a really great 
man in his way " — but glides off at once on to the general 
moral aspect of the situation, applied quickly to himself ; 
" I wish I was him now. Death is a queer thing — terrible 
and desirable." 

A unique sentence appears to me to be the following : 
"/ am glad you don't like A. B. C. [the italics are mine.] 
He is a tiresome man. I expect a rather upset man too ; 
after this . . . crisis." For the dignitary in question was 
likely to find himself locked out of a position on which 
he had speculated. On the whole, what Benson, I think, 
most of all disliked, was spiritual uncouthness, loudness,^ 
and self-satisfied stupidity. (The " stupidity " which were 
better called " simplicity " he prized beyond pearls, even 
when it made him slightly irritable ; but this irritation 
he whole-heartedly condemned. He never condemned his 
hatred for cheap cleverness.) 

^ " X. has gone to Scarborough ! Can't you fancy him . . . with a cigar ? in 
a rakish hat ? winking at young ladies, and calling the barmaid ' Miss. ' ' Sweaty 
'ot to-day, miss, ayn't it?' With a malacca cane . . ." A cruel little sketch 
accompanies this skit on one of the more austere of Mirfield's brethren. 


He mentions a recently-appointed prelate, and declares 
that he is an excellent example of conspicuous mediocrity ; 
and therefore acclaimed loudly by the Church of England. 
"True gentility," says an eighteenth - century maxim, 
" forms no convictions, and is never demonstrative." 

He is what one must call astute ; and it is a poor thing 
to be. " Be good, sweet Prelate, and let who will be 
clever." That is really true, I think. Surely astuteness in 
spiritual things nearly always ends by falling into the pit 
that it has elaborately "digged for others." However, 
stupidity in spiritual things is nearly as disastrous. The 
real secret [he adds dryly] is, of course, to find the golden 
mean, such as you and I pursue. A really stupid good 
person rouses me to a kind of frenzy. I met once a really 
good and stupid Quaker. I love the idea of Quakers, but 
not their reality ... at least if this was a specimen. I 
have hardly ever wanted so much to destroy anybody. 

His own occupations pursued themselves quite placidly, 
and, of course, the drama — children's drama — could not be 
neglected. In the January of 1900 a Children's Pantomime, 
The Beauty and the Beast, was acted in the Mirfield school- 
room, and he proposed, I gather, to act it again, in 1902, 
in the Quarry. This, however, never happened. 

"The Pantomime was a great success," he wrote on 
December 29 : 

I was stage-struck again — as I always am, and began 
to wish I wasn't a clergyman, in order that I might act 
myself. And I always fall deeply in love with the leading 
female characters — which is unfortunate for a monk ! 
However, I have torn myself away. But they look so 
beautiful, all rouged up and eyebrowed, behind the foot- 
lights.^ They are scarcely of an age to be married yet — 
about thirteen, is the eldest; and they haven't an "h" in 
their entire repertoire, and say " oi " for " I," and so on. 
Still they are exquisite creatures. 

^ He " made up" the children himself, and enjoyed it immensely. 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 173 

At a dramatic moment, the "Beast" was to be laid 
out, with a pall and candles, as dead. There was a 
moment of nerves — the candles had to be removed, lest 
the villagers might find them "Roman Catholic." Next, 
one of the more romantic lyrics had its tune altered : 
the Baptists used it as a hymn. Finally, the expression 
"Go to blazes" had to be expunged, in deference to 
pious ears, possibly intolerant of this remote allusion, 
even, to eternal fires. Hugh never became quite patient 
with their susceptibilities. 

Besides these more secular avocations, he displayed 
an intermittent and rather perfunctory interest in 
foreign missions. As early as July, 1901, he had asked 
an Indian civil servant for information concerning Indian 
missions, to be incorporated in a book a Mirfield Father 
was writing. He preached for the S.P.G., and spoke, 
later on, with sympathy of the Community's new house 
in Johannesburg. For the "Children of the Church, 
King's Messengers," a department of the Children's 
S.P.G. Missionary Association, he even produced, at re- 
quest, a Syllabus of Instruction, comprising skeleton 
lectures on the lives of Bishops Field of Newfoundland, 
M'Dougall of Labuan and Sarawak, Callaway of St. 
John's, Kaffraria, George Selwyn of New Zealand, and 
Edward Bickersteth of S. Tokyo, with references to the 
standard works upon them. But he did not enjoy it. 
"All my spare time," he writes, "is occupied in trans- 
lating hymns . . . and also in writing dreary Sunday 
School lessons on the subject of foreign missions. Poor 
stuff, I am afraid." He characteristically suggests that 
the lessons should be driven home by tableaux. 

Besides these translations of hymns, he wrote a few 
poems, published at the time in the Pilot, which never 


refused his offers.^ These afterwards formed the bulk 
of the collected Poems published in 1914 by Messrs. 
Burns & Oates. He had only consented to their ap- 
pearance in order that any proceeds of their sale might 
be devoted to Mr. Norman Potter's Homes, of which 
I speak below ; and indeed their appeal, unless I err, 
lies chiefly in the personal note — here, pleading upon 
the whole and pathetic — which he managed to infuse into 
nearly all his writing. There is in them but little passion, 
and, perhaps, no very high poetic inspiration ; they are 
at once less academic, but more restricted in their 
appeal than, say, The Christian Year; they have none of 
the substance of the Lyra Germanica, for instance, nor the 
fresh whimsicality of George Herbert's pious and very 
personal poems, which Hugh never really loved, nor 
anything at all of the rapture of a Francis Thompson, 
whose joys and anguish tore his soul to pieces. Yet all 
these names have they, by qualities allied or contrasted, 
recalled to memory. Undoubtedly it is the still wistful, 
recalcitrant, searching soul of a man known to most as 
so bright, buoyant, and skiey, which appeals to the 
reader even where literary perfection is absent. The 
first poem and the carol are those, perhaps, which move 
us most.* 

^ When the Pilot perished, " Why is it that parties succeed," he asked, " and 
that sincerity doesn't ? " 

* Besides these, he made an effort in Latin versification, on the finding of a 
stirrup in the foundations of the old Mirfield stables then being turned into the 
nucleus of the new College. He suggested : 

En ! schola equile instat ! strepitus sic denique mundi 

Caelorum paci cedit ; — et hocce manet ! 
Sit monstrum tibi, terrarum ut peregrinus ab orbi 

Ad caelestem urbem vivere, serve Dei. 

He gleefully sent these, his first epigram since Eton, to Mr. A. C. Benson, who 
returned it with some not uncalled-for comments. The epigram is now inscribed 

MIRFIELD, 1 898-1903 175 

Besides this, he assisted a personal friend and penitent 
to produce a book of Intercession entitled Bands of Love, 
She began it in 1901, and gave the manuscript to Father 
Benson in 1902, who, joining the imprimatur of another 
member of his Community to his own, returned it for 
publication. It was accepted by an ecclesiastical pub- 
lisher, together with Father Benson's preface ; but owing 
to the dilatoriness of those responsible for its appear- 
ance, it was only just published when Benson became 
a Catholic. This action of his led to the withdrawal, at 
the publisher's request, of his preface. After some sin- 
gular negotiations, the authoress's name too was with- 
drawn from the title-page of the book, it was Anglicanised, 
a new preface was written, and it reappeared as the 
property of those to whom the wearied lady had pre- 
sented the book.i Benson's help had been practical — he 
was ready to give hints as to type, italics, the advantage of 
assertions over questions, and the Hke ; but also I con- 
fess that he showed a tendency to remodel the substance 
of what was submitted to him to perfect. Those privi- 
leged to have studied under that unique scholar. Pro- 
fessor Robinson Ellis, late Corpus Professor of Latin at 
Oxford, must remember how his infinite delicacy of touch 
could transform a man's most mediocre composition into 
a masterpiece. Perhaps this displays a still greater 

beneath the stirrup, which hangs inside the main entrance to the College, and 
runs as follows : 

En ! schola pellit equos : strepitus sic denique mundi 

Caelorum paci cedit : et hoc superest. 
Te moneat mundi strepitu nugisque relictis 

Ad pacem superam tendere, serue Dei. 

^ It was not wasted to her. When, in May, 1904, she went to the Convent 
of Sion, Bayswater, to be received into the Church, the nuns found that it was 
she who had written a book lent to them some weeks before, and for the conver- 
sion of whose authoress the sisters had been praying ever since. It was Bands 
of Love. 


power over the matter in hand than does that forceful 
recasting which reveals a personality incapable of any 
self-expression short of self-impression. 

Foremost among his literary enterprises is, of course, 
the collection of stories called The Light Invisible. Mr. 
A. C. Benson had lent his brother the manuscript of 
certain " mystical " tales, afterwards published as The Hill 
of Trouble, and Hugh had been fascinated. 

" The last one," he wrote on May 22 [1901], " ' The Closed 
Window,' terrified me for hours. What I like so much is 
your device ... of making the supernatural world open 
out directly from the natural. I do believe that is the 
secret of effective supernatural stories." 

Thus inspired, he began to write, but expected at first 
to collaborate with his sister. Miss Margaret Benson. 

" My sister and I," he wrote in the autumn of 1902, 
" are bringing out a book called Redcap. Look out for it, 
and See That You Get It. . . . It is a queer book of odds 
and ends. My sister has done most of it. Many of the 
contributions are true. They are short sketches of sudden 
and startling events — like being nearly killed — Egyptian 
things, &c. It is called Redcap for an abstruse reason 
which the preface explains." 

Rather later, he announces that the book will appear in 
the spring (of 1903) edited by his sister, and it is to be 
called Tales of a Visionary. This plan, however, fell 
through, though it will be revived when first he writes the 
Mirror of Shalott stories in 1904. Slightly nervous as to 
how his book's religious colour might affect the reputation 
or the feelings of the Mirfield Community, he wrote 
a complete volume of his own "under an ingenious 
pseudonym that I do not believe anyone will guess." He 
signed himself simply Robert Benson, reviving the unused 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 177 

R and dropping Hugh. He even on one occasion allowed 
it to be surmised that Mr. A. C. Benson had written the 
stories. Miss Margaret Benson pleaded for simplicity as 
the best concealment, if concealment was to be at all : 

Pseudonymity is a great mistake unless it must be pre- 
served ; and this can't be preserved, and I don't see why 
it should ... I should say, full name at once — if not, 
Robert . . . Always speak the truth, especially as you may 
be found out if you don't. 

The stories are put into the mouth of an aged priest 

whose dogmatic position was to puzzle reader after reader. 

On two topics connected with this book its author was 

positively bombarded with inquiries : Were the stories 

true ? and. Was the priest a Catholic or an Anglican ? He 

invariably answered that the stories presented themselves 

as nothing else than fiction. This proved, and proves, a 

disappointment to a number of people ; but the fact 

remains that Benson himself never had a direct experience 

of the sort he here relates, and was, in practice — save in a 

kind of playful, quite arbitrary manner — very sceptical of 

the real objective value of what he heard. But that spiritual 

facts might express themselves somewhat in the manner 

of these incidents he never for a moment doubted ; 

gradually he worked up a whole philosophy concerning 

this ; meanwhile he could make very excellent stories out 

of the material supplied by imagination or by friends. 

As for the quality of the old priest's religion, even apart 

from the fact that the Anglican burial service is somewhere, 

quite casually, quoted, and that phrases like <'the great 

white throne " belong rather to an Evangelical mysticism 

into which the Apocalypse is woven, than to modern 

Catholic phraseology, I do not personally think that a 

Catholic would find much difficulty in diagnosing the 
I M 


atmosphere, at least in so far as that it was not what he 
was accustomed to breathe. Benson himself tells us that 
he deliberately refrained from asking himself which he 
meant the old man to be — Anglican or Catholic, and aimed 
constantly at the water-line. He had at the time a theory 
about the Church Diffusive, on which I shall touch below, 
by means of which he was attempting to "obliterate 
distinctions" within Christ's body, and to substitute for 
the " contemplation of cold-cut dogma " the " warm 
realities of spiritual experience." He developed a violent 
and, as he himself says, "rather exaggerated dislike for 
the book," ^ due to a reaction, he considers, against the 
unrealities in which he was then living. 

I dislike, quite intensely, The Light Invisible, from 
the spiritual point of view. I wrote it in moods of great 
feverishness, and in what I now recognise as a very subtle 
state of sentimentality ; I was striving to reassure myself 
of the truths of religion, and assume, therefore, a positive 
and assertive tone that was largely insincere.* 

I think he was worried, afterwards, by the thought 
that almost his most popular book had such a success 
among Anglicans ; and by the recollection that it was an 
Anglican nunnery which had inspired the chapter called 
" In the Convent Chapel," a panegyric of that contemplative 
life which, he came to hold, was essentially what the 
Anglican Church could make nothing of. Moreover, he 
had written it when staying in the Clergy House of St. 
Cuthbert's,3 Philbeach Gardens, where the Sacrament was 

^ Confessions, p. 83. 

- He ended by professing an entire disbelief that anyone could really like the 
book, and had to be given a list of confessedly "right people" who did. 

* The Abbot of Caldey, however, tells me that the idea of the nun kneeling, 
so silent, yet so powerful a centre of spiritual energy, first struck Fr. Benson 
when he, then still Dom Aelred Carlyle, of the Anglican Benedictines, intro- 
duced his confrere to the East Mailing chapel mentioned below. 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 179 

reserved ; and though at the time he could distract his 
mind from questions of validity of Anglican orders, yet 
afterwards he did not like to think that he had pictured 
a nun's supremest ecstasy as evoked by what he had by 
then come to believe, objectively, an illusion. 

Finally, he once heard the book rather cruelly parodied 
by an Anglican clergyman.^ He took criticism with 
genuine humility, no doubt ; but was exquisitely sensitive 
to what he thought injustice ; also, one sometimes grows 
to hate what one has seen made ridiculous. All this 
accounts for a certain anti-Anglican vivacity which 
regularly accompanies the expression of his views on this 
first book. 

Deeper cuts his conviction that part of its theological 
framework was awry. He considers himself to have 
confused the essence oi faith with what he calls " sight" ; 
that is, with vivid intuition, " personal realisation," 
little else, in fact, than imagination.^ He does not by this 

^ So I was at first assured. Later, Mr. A. C. Benson has shown me, in a 
contemporary diary, that he, too, pleasantly parodied The Light Invisible on an 
occasion when each of the three brothers was chaffing the style of the others' 
stories. Hugh hated this parody at the moment. 

* A correspondent ran directly counter to Benson's own diagnosis. He 
writes that he had said to a friend about The Light Invisible, "This was his half- 
way house to Rome. It was the last cry of his soul as it turned itself homeward. 
. . . His soul was starved ... it was like a little child robbed of something 
it ought to have. . . . Don't you see that the whole point of that book is 
' spiritual insight ' — the only real bridge between the Seen and the Unseen ? It 
was not with him a question of authority — anyhow an authority which had its 
objective presence in this world. He went ; his spiritual sight showed him the 
way. . . . Men go over to Rome for many reasons. We condemn most of them ; 
though they tell us much, they always leave out — through what I may call the 
soul's modesty — ^just that exact spiritual force which finally and irresistibly drew 
them. We must not so blame one . . . who when he went left behind his 
lantern. Hence, the message of your book was an incomplete one, half-query, 
half-cry. (Now you must be better off ! Tell me !) Won't you tell me what 
your right hand holds ? The left may hold the solution of the Petrine claims, 
but I don't ask your help to face them or to sharpen my emotional faculties. It 
is spiritual keys I want." 


refer to such exquisite visions as that of Mary, " Consolatrix 
Afflictorum," mothering the wakeful child under her blue 
mantle ; nor the mere re-focussing of rabbit-cropped, 
bracken-fringed glade, with its pool and pines, into the 
" Green Robe " worn by Creation's immanent Lord : still 
less, the odd allegorical picturing of the nun's prevailing 
prayer as an elaborate machine, and herself as a financier 
directing operations from behind a city desk. In short, 
when Benson talks of " sight " or " imagination," he does 
not at all mean what is the essential prerogative of all 
visualisers, who translate every sensation and all their 
memories into colour and line. Visualiser he remained 
to the end, and in a high degree. The Catholic stories in 
the Mirror of Shalott are as highly visualised, symbolical, 
and incarnate, so to say, as ever were the Anglican. But 
he feels that he has still regarded Faith too much in the 
Evangelical sense of a strongly /^/^ assent rather than as 
a uniquely motived assent. The Catholic doctrine of faith, 
with all that department of the " supernatural " with which 
it is essentially allied, more than any other eludes, as a 
rule, the grasp of non-Catholics. The Catholic does not 
say, I believe, because my intellect sees its reasonable 
way to so believing (as, that Democracy is good, or bad) ; 
still less, because it is coerced (mathematically, as it were) 
into so believing (as, that the various propositions of 
Euclid are true) ; nor again, I believe because, though 
my intellect may be silent on the matter, or indeed con- 
tradict me herein, I feel superlatively and interiorly 
convinced that so and so is true : but, I believe it, because 
an authority, which (reason has convinced me) is divine, 
asserts it so to be. Reason, that is, has led me to a point 
where it becomes right for me to assent, though I can 
still, with varying degrees of culpability, refuse. Catholic 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 181 

theology teaches that supernatural grace strengthens the 
human will, making therefore the assent of the will and 
all future assertions of the guided intellect to be super- 
natural acts. Such then is, in undefended outline, the 
Catholic dogma. Benson perceived that The Light Invisible 
offended against this in two ways ; or rather, it did so, 
and he perceived one of them. Namely, for him, intense 
faith was identified with a mode of spiritual perception 
latent in all men, but not yet actualised, as all men may 
be supposed potentially to contain the artistic sense or 
the moral sense. By developing this spiritual sense or 
faculty — a development due mainly to prayer and morti- 
fication — the soul becomes able to be, at choice, aware of 
one or other of two interpenetrating planes of reality, the 
material and the spiritual, rather as a mathematician can 
at will '' abstract " from the concrete qualities of any object 
and consider the ideal system of forces and curves on 
which it is organised. 

This kind of doctrine is to be found exposed at length 
in the more reputable books upon Theosophy ; and of 
course every phrase used in the enunciation of it can 
be paralleled from the most orthodox of theologians, 
dogmatic no less than mystical. As a whole, however, 
it confuses the natural and the supernatural, and leads 
to an exaggerated subjectivity.^ Corresponding to this 
overrating of the subjective faculties of the soul, is found 
a depreciation of those objective methods which reason 
follows to reach a recognition of the divine. Intellect 
appears to have nothing to do with faith ^ — no more, 
at least, than the jewels enter into the constitution or 
creation of the woman they adorn. Christian apologetics 

1 It is most clearly expressed by the priest in The Light Invisible, on pp. 4, 
5, 6, and 60. " See p. 167 ib. 


are " entirely " inadequate. Converging lines of probability 
may lead to God, but do not reach Him. Faith is the 
product, not of intellectual, but of moral conditions. This 
recognisably is a doctrine which leads, if pressed, to a 
position known as "Modernist." A truth may be true 
religiously which is not true intellectually. Intellectually 
I know Christ's dust still to lie within His tomb ; 
religiously, I believe Him to be risen. On the material 
plane, or historically. He was Mary's son and Joseph's ; 
spiritually, I possess Him as Son of God. The habitual 
misinterpretation of Newman's doctrine of "accumulated 
probabilities" may have led Benson to speak thus in- 
accurately ; much more probably his doctrine follows 
straight from his temperament, which was profoundly 
idealist and intolerant of laboured intellectualism, as we 
shall shortly see. Meanwhile it is wholly outside my 
province to defend the Catholic position I have stated ; 
I had only to show where it differs from that expressed 
in The Light Invisible, and what he meant when, later on, he 
constantly accused his book of confusing faith with sight. 

Meanwhile the stories represent a leap full into 
maturity of style and literary expression astonishing for 
its suddenness. Sensitive observation, accurate applica- 
tion of language suited to one sense (as hearing) to another 
(as sight), and the spontaneous interpretation of sound 
by colour, and sight by music, and the like ; very perfect 
command of metaphor for the description of the subtlest 
psychic states ; all this is as good as ever it will be.^ 

^ One of his most successful devices — and to be successful it must be most 
skilfully used — is the picturing, so to say, of the "hush before the storm." So, 
excellently, on p. 102, and, more lightly, p. 248. In The Necromancers, the 
scene where Mrs. Nugent hears the dog-cart in the night, gives it you perfectly. 
Dickens was fond of this device ; he used it masterfully, e.g., before the death of 
Carker, in Dombey and Son, or of Montague Tigg, in Martin Chuzzlewit . 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 183 

Tremans supplied much of the rather luscious mise-en-scene, 
especially the garden, the gateway, and the oratory, with 
its adjacent rooms. The extreme perfection of the old 
priest's equipment, the apparatus of his life, is dwelt 
on not too preciously, perhaps, by one who was destined 
to create so artistic a shrine for his last years, within 
which his soul was able, none the less, to live in such 
detachment. Still, Benson himself recognised that here 
he lapsed, as he was often to do, into the romantic. But 
with this refined and cultured sentiment goes too a 
genuine human passion. It would be hard to surpass 
Consolatrix Ajfflictorum, already quoted ; and the page which 
tells of the murmuring echo of a whole world's Aves, 
gathered to Mary's heart under the dark blue mantle, 
reaches a high level of feeling. Moreover, Benson reveals 
himself endowed with the rare quality of being able to 
tell an excellent tale. The Traveller is a straightforward 
sound ghost-story.i Under which King is vivid, and 
tantalisingly refuses us the key to the one of its many 
riddles we really wanted to unlock (and this is most 
Bensonian) ; in many of the chapters we find the authentic 
touch of the uncanny. The ghastly face suspended in 
the tree, drawing succulent delight from the murdered 
thrush ; the red dog's-eyes of the damned man in Poena 
Damni; the misshapen idiot boy who prayed there, on 
Christmas night, in the quarry, till on the mud was shown 
the tiny mark of a Child's foot. . . . Writing of this last 
tale, almost shocking in its abrupt invasion of the mys- 
tical by the material, Mr. E. F. Benson mentioned the 

^ It was in the Gate House at Mailing Abbey that one of St. Thomas's 
murderers is said to have taken refuge. It, like the Abbey, is haunted ; Father 
Richards, chaplain of the convent and Benson's friend (^Confessions, p. 55), was 
evicted by the ghost, and doubtless Benson was thinking of this wh^n h? wrot^ 
his tale. 


" tremendous grip " ; of the book as a whole, he alludes 
to " distinction and charm " as its characteristics. And 
that perhaps is true ; Benson charms you — that is, unless 
you are one of those whom all the time he angers — and 
all of a sudden grips you. And if you quarrel with his 
incidents, well, as in the same letter Mr. E. F. Benson 
puts it, " To say ' I am sorry, but it happened that way,' 
[is] the inalienable right of the author." 

But throughout the book emerge the main ideas which 
are to be Benson's themes throughout his life : the 
sacramentality of all nature, taught immediately in The 
Green Robe: the appalling reality of sin {Poena Damni\ 
and of diabolic agency {The Watcher), which have caused 
the spiritual and material and intellectual planes, which 
normally should interpenetrate and harmoniously co- 
exist, to be, as it were, tilted and awry {Over the Gateway), 
bringing it to pass that Pain is the inevitable punish- 
ment divinely alchemised into the supremest remedy 
{With Dyed Garments j The Bridge over the Stream), a 
remedy which pure souls, owing to their incorporation 
with Christ achieved by love ( Unto Babes) and prayer {In 
the Convent Chapel), are privileged to apply to the race at 
large, at, so to say, their own expense {The Sorrows of 
the World). " In the morning " comes ' The Expected 
Guest,' and Benson finishes (as in The King's Achievement) 
with a sentence deliberately and even audaciously am- 
biguous. " The Rector had come." ^ 

^ He will defend this quaint device — from a literary standpoint not unlike 
Horace's quiet endings to his more high-pitched odes — as being at once psycho- 
logically and religiously accurate. You constantly are not sure what an event 
means, or what your own words mean ; it is, however, in keeping with the 
general scheme of things that they should, to some extent, be sacramental. 

When these notions are made explicit, that is deliberate and on the whole 
distasteful to him. He far preferred to leave you with vague and tremendous 
impressions of unseen, transcendent forces interacting, such as Maeterlinck will 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 185 

The Blood Eagle is a story which stands rather alone. 
In it Benson makes one of his rare excursions into a 
philosophy of paganism. It is paralleled by "Father 
Bianchi's story" about Mithra in the Mirror of Shalott. 
The old priest, when a boy, had assisted at a singular 
spectacle in a wood, which was identified, when he 
described it to a Professor, as a " blood-eagle " or sacrifice 
to some pagan deity, of whom the boy (though the Pro- 
fessor disregarded this, being but a "Higher Critic") had 
a vision. He was standing on a tumulus where these 
sacrifices, originally human, had in ancient times been 
offered. But the earth was still black and sodden with 
the blood of the pig which he had seen escape, wounded, 
and pursued by an old man dripping too with its blood, 
and for which (does Father Benson give us to under- 
stand ?) he was in genuine danger of himself being sub- 
stituted. The story is decidedly "unpleasant," and in 
spirit, as well as in setting, reminds us, though still palely, 
of Mr. A. Machen's House of Souls. 

"Practically everybody," he wrote on June 7, 1903, 
" has either failed to understand it, or has disliked it. And 
yet I think that what I meant is both harmless and true : 
viz. that a brutal and filthy superstition, so long as there 
is a deference paid to the unseen world, is better than the 
most polished materialism. The old man and the Professor 
are the pivots." 

In 1900, an event occurred which might well have 
altered Hugh's whole career. One of the canons of 

hint at. Maeterlinck, indeed, still broods over the book ; the silhouette of 
Tremans on the cover is quite obscure enough to satisfy him. 

Already we catch ourselves smiling at the recurrent Bensonian turns of 
thought and phrasing. " I searched furiously." " He beckoned to me furiously." 
How often in Hugh Benson's letters that repeats itself — " Here am I writing 
furiously — working furiously " ! And sentences begin, as in Kipling's earlier work, 
so often with "Yes "or "No," implying interruptions hard enough (when you 
try) to put into words. 


St. George's, Windsor, suggested to Mr. A. C. Benson that 
Hugh might be willing to accept the living of Hunger- 
ford in Berkshire, which was vacant. It was a position 
of importance, being well endowed, its staff of rector and, 
I think, three curates shepherding at that time a popu- 
lation of three thousand. It was a singularly high office to 
be offered to so young a man, and was to be judged even 
more by what it promised than by what it was in itself. 

On June 7, 1900, he wrote from 4 Little Cloisters, 
Westminster, refusing the offer. 

I feel it is such a terribly responsible position — and I 
am so inexperienced. . . . But the offer has had sufficient 
effect on me to make me reconsider the Community question 
altogether — and I have practically decided to postpone 
my profession, and to ask for another year's probation. 
Although I sincerely feel that I am not meant to take this 
particular post, it may be an indication that I am ultimately 
meant to do work of this kind. In any case the time is 
not lost, as I am getting experience of a concentrated 
kind that ought to be very valuable. 

By June 9 he is able to write that he has definitely 
renounced standing for his election in July, and on June 12 
he says : 

Certainly an outward invitation to take up any new 
work has a great influence on one when it comes unex- 
pectedly — but only when it meets a growing conviction in 
oneself that that kind of work is right for one. [Such was 
the invitation to go to Mirfield, such is not, that to go to 

You suggest that I am wilful in this, and am " choos- 
ing rather than following," but I cannot say more than that 
I am doing my best to be sincere. Besides, does not 
" following " convey a sense of continuing to do what you 
are already doing, and "choose," a sense of starting fresh 
in a way ? It seems also to be a recognised canon of 
learning "vocation," that after a course of life has been 
taken up, it should not be forsaken for any less strong 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 t87 

reason than that which drew one to it, and I must say that 
at present the balance is down on the community side — 
though to speak honestly — only just. 

Next day he continues : 

... It seems to me there are two methods — one, the 
parochial, is to live close to people and, starting from that, 
to work " ad hominem " ; the other, the community life, to 
live to a certain extent apart and work " de Deo " (which 
sounds presumptuous, but which I do not think really is) ; 
of course one does not mean that either is exclusive of 
the other, but only that each has a different tendency. . . . 
There is also in mission work a peculiar intensity of 
spiritual touch, that while it has its dangers, also has its 
extreme advantages. [He then draws his only conclusion :] 
Community life is a vocation for some — is it for me ? 

During the next months his reflections on community, 
as compared with parochial, life issued in the following 
letter to the Rev. J. H. Molesworth, on November 7, 1900. 
He was at Tremans, recruiting from the influenza, which 
he said he got once a week and twice on Sundays. 

My dear Molesworth, — At last I answer your letter. 
I have been down here convalescing for a few weeks from 
various disorders, and when one has got nothing to do, you 
know the way in which one does nothing. You speak 
about the Religious Life — and ask me what I think. I am 
quite certain that its revival in the Church of England is 
from God — and that men's communities as well as women's 
have a great work to do. If I may say so, I think my 
testimony is worth more, as I am not yet certain of my 
own vocation. I did not offer myself for election last July, 
and am not at all sure yet what my decision will be next 
year. But I am quite sure that there is such a vocation — 
and that it is a very lofty one. There is work to be done 
of a kind that no one else can do. Our parochial system 
is not doing the magnificent work it is capable of, just 
because at present there is not sufficient work done in 
conjunction with it that can only be done by communities. 
If one may dare to say so, our Lord's " method " and St. 
John's complement one another. As our Lord's is the 


vital work and the Baptist's only incidental to it, so the 
parochial system is undoubtedly the vital one — but it is 
helped beyond measure by what Communities are really 
only able to do. One sees continually in the work of one's 
brethren at Mirfield parishes startled into new life. 

As for the internal life of the Community, it is exactly 
the kind necessary not only to make men efficient workers, 
but pious persons. I can say all this with much more 
freedom since I am not yet at all clear as to whether I am 
called to the life. 

My letter looks very cool and didactic, but you wished 
me to say what I thought. It seems to me that the only 
weak point is that conceivably men, myself among them, 
might be attracted by the great privileges of the life, to a 
state to which God may not have called them. Do write 
again soon. H. B. 

The year then passed in work such as we have de- 
scribed, and Benson found, as July of 1901 approached, 
that it was " better than retreat." " I am sure," he had 
written on April 28 of that year, "that the way in which 
vocations are usually found is by doing the next thing as 
it comes to hand — and being content to go on doing it 
without impatience." 

I insert here part of two letters which accurately show 
his attitude of mind towards life at Mirfield : 

I agree entirely about Mirfield being a narrowing life . . . 
but that is precisely why I am here. To do anything well, 
one must deliberately sacrifice a large number of other 
excellent pursuits and tastes. That is, surely, what you 
have to do yourself. You sacrifice all that living in 
England means, rightfully and deliberately, for a particular 
purpose. Broadness is the very death of efficiency — 
except to one or two geniuses who have so much energy 
that they seem, at any rate, to be able to devote them- 
selves to several things at once. There are simply scores 
of people one could quote, who weighed the cost, and 
then neglected one part of their nature, or rather pruned 
it off, in order to have more time and leisure and energy 
for that particular thing they meant to do well. 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 189 

The Scriptures favour me too, I fancy (i Cor. ii. 2, 
Phil. iii. 7). 

(This is a pretty pass, when I fire texts at you across 
the sea !) 

Indeed all this is my solemn opinion. Celibacy, and 
many other things, are right just for that very reason, 
and not because marriage is "low" or ''carnal" or any 
nonsense of that kind. . . . 

It seems to me that the reason why we have such an 
alarming number of mediocrities, and lack of giants, is 
because of this accursed gospel of broadness, and " keeping 
in touch with current thought." We are given a smatter- 
ing of many subjects, and command of none, and zeal is 
always derided as " narrow." 

And again : 

Lent has been too terrific for anything. Roughly, I 
estimate I have preached about seventy sermons, and I 
never wish, at present, to utter another word on the 
subject of Religion. ... In about a fortnight I kick off 
again : but not for long, thank goodness — because then I 
have my holiday, and then a month of peace and quietness 
here, during which time I hope to take the final step of 
committing myself to this life at Mirfield. It is rather 
terrifying to contemplate, and I am not absolutely deter- 
mined yet ; but if nothing startling happens, by the end 
of July I shall become a fixture. 

. . . The loneliness must be vile [he was writing to 
India]. I do indeed sympathise — because I am exactly the 
same. To be quite alone even for a day is abominable 
to me. But I always think there is a certain grim satis- 
faction in shoving a thing alone, in a humdrum way. 
We have a dog at home who runs with the carriage : 
when he has sported himself about enough^ he goes under 
the carriage into the dust, and pads along with his hind- 
legs and tail showing over the back ; and I always sym- 
pathise. He wishes, I think, to be part of a going 
machine, and puts himself into touch with a larger thing 
than himself, and he finds it worth the dust, because the 
wheels are going all round him. I always feel just the 
same here — after barking in various places one comes 
back and fits into this machine ; and the very monotony 
is a joy. When I feel down I always draw satisfaction 





from the dog, because there is an extraordinary pleasure 
in absolutely wearisome routine, and it has a kind of 
hypnotic fascination that a turning wheel has. 
Excuse this outburst of allegory. 

Hence he schooled himself to write, on July 12, 1901, 
to Mr. A. C. Benson : 

I think Mamma told you a little time ago that I was 
getting more settled here, and now I think I have quite 
made up my mind to join the Community at the end of 
this month. [Probably, he adds, he would have joined 
last year but for his brother's words.] I feel now that 
there is nothing else to be done. I am both more efficient 
and more happy than ever in parish work, and am less 
incompetent at this particular kind of work than any 

However, a bomb exploded brusquely. He wrote 
again on July 23 to Mr. A. C. Benson : 

July 23. ... I am sorry to say that everything is in the 
wildest confusion, and for the present my profession is 
postponed. I shall have to decide by Monday morning 
whether I will offer myself for election or not. It arose 
out of a lecture given to us by Canon Gore on " Higher 
Criticism " that upset me terribly. I had not heard that 
kind of thing before, and the Community cannot see its 
way to giving me leave to be absent. 

All this alludes to an episode which, as far as I can 
see, he afterwards entirely forgot. At any rate, nowhere, 
that I can find, has he mentioned it. Yet quite clearly 
it was a pivotal point in his life — if not, indeed, an event 
directive of all his mental development. 

This episode occurred on the occasion of one of those 
" Quiet Times " at which all available members of the 
Community met together at Mirfield. They involved, with 
other elements, a lecture, or perhaps two, upon some 

MIRFIELD, 1898-1903 191 

point considered of importance to the understanding of 
the religious situation of the day.^ 

During that of July, 1901, Canon Gore gave two 
or three lectures, which afterwards appeared in the 
Pilot, upon the Synoptic Problem. He undoubtedly con- 
sidered himself, while being fair to the opponents of the 
Gospel record, as traditionally accepted, to be asserting a 
theologically safe yet scientifically sure position. But, as 
we have seen, Benson was thrown into a passion of dismay, 
begged leave to attend no more such lectures in the future, 
and withdrew, for four days (July 23-27) to consider his 
position. About the facts there can be no doubt, though 
they have left so slight an impression even upon contem- 
porary correspondence. 

The Bishop of Oxford has kindly written to me as 
follows ; 

T.^'Ca January 1915. 

Dear Fr. Martindale,— [ . . . ] With regard to Ben- 
son, I was very much attracted by him when he came to 
Mirfield, but became speedily conscious that his mind and 
mine moved in different planes. The most characteristic 
thing which I remember was an occasion when I found, 
to my great surprise, that he had never read the most 
usual commentaries on books of the New Testament, 
especially those by his father's friend, Dr. Lightfoot. I 
urged him to read them on account of their surpassing 
merit, but he came back after a time and told me that he 
would do it if I told him, but that he wished seriously to 
assure me that, if he were to consider such arguments 

^ It was of one of these he wrote : " We are all at home just now — having a 
' Quiet Time.' It is nice and restful, only we jaw too much in the evenings. . . . 
Some of us are not made for debate — too moody. Possibly I am myself." As 
a matter of fact, I am told that Hugh used to behave extraordinarily well, con- 
sidering. He was often to be seen positively red in the face with the effort not 
to say the thousand things he was bursting to say. The politically liberal, not 
to say downright socialistic, colour which has at all times been observable at 
Mirfield worried him not a little. He believed himself to observe this, as well 
as theological liberalism, in the first superior, Canon Gore. 


about the authenticity of books of the Bible — arguments 
of the critical reason — and were to give his mind seriously 
to them, he feared he would become a sceptic. This sort 
of critical reasoning appeared to him to result wholly in 
scepticism. With him it was " all or nothing." If he were 
to hold on to religion, he must accept it simply on 
authority because of his moral needs. 

This he said quite seriously and solemnly. I do not 
know what he may have thought later on in his life, but 
I am certain that at the period when he came to Mirfield, 
and all through the time he was there, this represented 
his state of mind ; and I do not think anyone could give 
a true account of what he was at that time and in his 
later years amongst us without making this apparent. 
Thus I hope you will publish this letter. The scene I have 
described has remained in my mind extraordinarily dis- 
tinctly ever since the time of our conversation, and I have 
often pondered over it. I am sure that I have not ex- 
aggerated. — Yours faithfully, C. OxON. 

Benson himself wrote, though not upon this occasion, 
to India : 

"As regards the Epistle to Romans, I am particularly 
ignorant of commentaries." He discovers, however, by 
inquiry, Sanday and Headlam ! 

I can't get along with commentaries at all. It is a 
forgotten element in my theological composition. What 
I love is dogmatic and scientific theology, and " ascetic." 
I have been reading a lot of this latter lately, " Mother 
Julian of Norwich," "Molinos," &c. Mother Julian was 
a delightful lady of 1400, who was an anchoress at Nor- 
wich, and was "no scholar," but who had the most 
beautiful and comforting visions. "Al shal bee well — al 
shal bee well ; and thow shal see for thyself that al maner 
of thynge shal bee well." And so on. Very deep too.^ 

^ By January, 1902, he has read this famous mystic, whom he loves despite 
the perplexities of her last chapters, " two or three times." I should like to 
emphasize already that theological and intellectual differences generally never 
seemed to injure his personal relations or his sense of equity. Just as one of his 
closest friends at Mirfield was socialist in tendency, so he is delighted when he 
finds his friends like Canon Gore's books ; earnestly recommends his Prayer 

MIRFIELD, 1 898-1903 193 

The storm subsided, superficially, as rapidly as it rose. 
Benson returned to Mirfield unable on his side to see any- 
thing preventing his profession. At least the emotion that 
drove from Liberalism had stilled the emotion that drew 
to Rome. "Are you," Canon Gore inquired of him, "in 
any danger of lapse ? " " No," said the candidate, aston- 
ished at the question. He was elected on July 29th, and 
professed on the ist of August, 1901. He writes in his 
Confessions, with sincere emotion, of the happiness of that 
day. Ecce nova f ado omnia. He obtained a new cassock. 
His mother assisted at the initiation of a new life. From 
the brethren he took the Pax, the kiss of peace ; at the 
altar he received Communion. " In the afternoon I drove 
out with my mother in a kind of ecstasy of contentment." 

He flung himself into work once more. " It is hard/' 
he writes, "for Catholics to believe it, but it is a fact that 
as an Anglican I had far longer hours in the Confessional 
than I have ever had in the Catholic Church. ... In one 
London parish, for instance, for about four days at the 
end of a mission, my brother-missioner and I interviewed 
people, hearing confessions and recommending resolutions 
and rules of life, for over eleven hours each day ; two more 
hours were occupied in delivering sermons to vast con- 
gregations. . . . We came from our quiet life red-hot with 
zeal, and found everywhere men and women who seemed 
to have been waiting for us in an extraordinary manner." 

Besides these exterior activities, the Mirfield Theological 
College was at this time preoccupying Hugh's mind a 
little, and he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury 
about it. 

and the Lords Prayer, and The Creed of the Christian ; but of his Body of 
Christ I confess that he says he finds it " a terrible book, and really misleading 
in language — a totally wrong impression Jof what he really? believes. All his 
friends say so." 

I N 


The Archbishop, in his reply, dated August 28, 1902, 

said : 

Newton Don, Kelso, N.B. 
2^th August 1902. 

... I am keenly interested in what you tell me of the 
new departure — for it is new, I suppose ? — in the work of 
your Community. 

And every thoughtful and capable plan for the wise 
preparation and guidance of ordinands ought at present, 
I think, to be welcomed by the whole Church. Whether 
the actual doctrinal and practical teaching which ^ou 
would give to such ordinands corresponds quite with what 
I should myself give, is really a minor, though a most 
important, matter. There is huge peril, as I think, in men 
taking to the technical study of theology with a view to 
ordination, without its being based upon adequate edu- 
cation of a general sort, and I therefore rejoice to see that 
you contemplate preparing all your men for a degree in 
Arts before they become theologians. 

In this letter the Archbishop not only added his voice 
to that great chorus of experts in all branches who declare 
that he succeeds best in his specialised department who 
has not been defrauded of that wide base of general educa- 
tion which the traditional forms of public school and 
university teaching take as their ideal ; but he was with 
infinite delicacy reminding Father Benson himself that his 
theological studies, such as they were, reposed on no very 
wide or solid foundations. Of his University training 
enough has already been said. He did not love the 
classics ; of science he will write : 

. . . What a relief it is to come across anyone who 
doesn't know about "science." Personally, I fear I am a 
hopeless person to ask about it ; it always seems to me a 
"red herring" in Christian apologetics; and that unless 

one really knows about it, like Fr. , one had much 

better keep to generalities, such as that science and re- 
ligion have no more to do with one another than, e.g., 
geography and music ! They are both branches of truth, 

MIRFIELD, 1 898-1903 195 

and therefore both come from God ; but beyond that, &c. 
. . . But I am hopelessly prejudiced ! And you had 
much better ask Fr. what he thinks.^ 

Of general history he never was, I think, a close student, 
though it must be confessed he learnt his way about the 
documents relating to such periods as he did study with 
great success. In speaking of his historical novels, I shall 
find it easy to emphasize the minute care in research 
and quite scholarly effort after accuracy he displayed. 
And with regard to general topics of modern interest, 
we have his brother's testimony that he was something of 
a Gallio. 

" I do not think," he writes, " that Hugh had ever any 
real interest in social reform, in politics, in causes, in the 
institutions which aim at the consolidation of human 
endeavour and sympathy." ^ 

Perhaps this statement will need some slight, not 
qualification, but adjustment, to the perspective of Hugh's 
ideals and motives before it will convey a perfectly true 
impression. Still, as a fact, it is undoubtedly true. Later, 
it will be easy to follow the main lines of Hugh's philan- 
thropic and social interests ; at present, references to 
contemporary topics of political and social importance are 
startling by their absence. None but a few references to 
the Education crisis of 1902 diversify his very full corre- 
spondence with his friend in India. I quote one which is 
perhaps characteristic : 

November 15. 

There is a frightful storm raging about the Education 
Bill. I have almost given up trying to understand it. 

^ spiritual Letters, '^. 14. His explicit declaration on this subject we shall 
find in his novel, None other Gods, where he incarnated the spirit of science, in 
the usual sense of that word, in Dr. Whitty, a personage for whom he had an 
esteem bordering on veneration. * Hugh, p. 123. 


The only principle I am quite confident of is that every 
system of education (religious) which is not strictly de- 
nominational is rotten. I would far sooner Jewish children 
were taught Jewish religion than a washed-out Christianity. 
Christianity has simply not been given a chance in our 
schools. You might as well have a board to discuss the 
ingredients of medicine, and strike out all " poisons " {e.g. 
strychnine, &c.), as have a board of vague managers to 
discuss religious teaching. There is something connected 
with the original, I will admit, left in both cases, but it 
is neither medicine nor Christianity. 

It will, then, be idle to seek for any of Benson's pre- 
occupations at this time outside the theological interests 
which were always his. It might perhaps have been 
expected that an illation could be made from the class of 
studies imposed by the Mirfield Fathers upon the students 
of their Theological College to those which they demanded 
of themselves. But to begin with, the College syllabus, 
though now of a very comprehensive and efficient sort,^ 
was, in Hugh Benson's time, still fairly fluid. Moreover, 
the family spirit reigning in the Community brought it 
to pass that, although in almost every department the 
house might include a man of real distinction and 
originality, yet such very wide liberty was deliberately 
accorded to each as regards occupation and details of 
study, that it would be impossible to estimate, from the 
mere fact of his having been there, what a man might 
have achieved. Besides, men arrived at Mirfield at very 
different stages of their mental formation ; some in middle 
age, when the mind does not take kindly to novelties of 
thought, least of all of abstract thought, and when the 

^ After the taking of their degree at Leeds University, where they reside in 
a Hostel, the students spend two more years in theological study at Mirfield. 
After Ordination and some experience of pastoral work, they are invited to 
return for a visit of a week or more, during which they study moral theology and 

MIRFIELD, 1 898-1903 197 

memory refuses, in most cases, to charge itself with any 
new burden of facts. 

Anyhow, what differentiates Mirfield most completely 
from a Catholic seminary naturally is, that theology can 
there be taught historically or at most philosophically, or 
in both these ways, but not dogmatically. There might 
be theses, but to these no " note " could be attached ; 
the professors could not propound, as Catholic professors 
must, " This thesis is of faith, or probable, or theologically 
certain." Interesting, pious, and encouraging the theo- 
logical explanations Benson heard might be, but scarcely 
satisfying to his soul, which craved authority. In con- 
sequence, apart from his moral notes, the synopsis of 
Lehmkuhl, referred to above, among his many note-books 
of that period I find one only which can be called theo- 
logical, and it contains, by the quaintest chance, a very 
bored digest of Pusey's commentary on the Minor Prophets 
and the Abb6 Turmel's historical account of the dogma 
of original sin. Thus did the high orthodox Anglican 
elbow the French Modernist ; and on neither does Father 
Benson feel himself drawn to express any sentiment as 
to worth of method or conclusion. One book, however, 
of an exceptional kind exists. It is a minute and purely 
mystical interpretation of Genesis and Exodus taken almost 
verse by verse.^ This was written in 1901. 

^ I quote a few lines from the meditations suggested by Exodus xiv. 
1-4. The final blow against sin, by placing souls beyond its tyranny. 
7. 600 chariots : the mark of " assault " (666 number of Beast). 
14. Thus the Apostles were terrified until the power had finally come, 
and they were separated from sin by Pentecost. 
16. The Blessing of the Water. 

19. The Cloud is the Spirit ; both together save Israel. 
Water and the Spirit constitute Baptism. 

20. Yet the world fails to understand : The Spirit is dark on the world's side. 
A perpetual allegory. 

There is a little more in another hook about the Apocalypse, but very little 


Such then is the account, as complete in all save one 
department as I can make it, of Benson's life at Mirfield. 
In that department is, of course, to be found all that 
relates directly to his Homeward movement. At Mirfield 
he was religiously happy : his apostolic work was active 
to the point of feverishness ; his literary power was 
developing enormously ; all his future characteristics were 
plainly visible. His life might have seemed to him ideal, 
had it not been for the discordant voice reiterating in his 
ears a call of which he could not judge the nature. Hence, 
a certain hardness, irascibility, noisiness (if I dare so de- 
scribe it), still discernible in him, is to be put down not 
alone to the relative superficiality of youth's emotions 
and inexperienced outlook, but to the uneasiness of one 
who is not wholly in his proper milieuy and half knows 
it, and wholly tries to persuade himself that this is untrue. 
Artificiality enters such a life ; the man is not altogether 
"himself." It will be our duty to study, now, his diffi- 
cult transit from one atmosphere, or rather world, into 
another ; the machinery of his life will groan and jar 
more harshly still, before all his soul runs smooth. 


All this part of my way was full of what they call Duty, and I was sustained 
only by my knowledge that the vast mountains (which had disappeared) would 
be part of my life very soon if I still went on steadily towards Rome. 

H. Belloc, The Path to Rome. 


When, during his life at Mirfield, did the call to Rome 
make itself heard once more ? 

The first that I can find is early in 1902, when Father 
Frere wrote to him from Florence a letter which I 
summarise : 

I am very sorry to hear of all your trouble of mind 
about our differences. . . . The issue is now narrowed. . . . 
The papal infallibility is now the real point at issue and 
with (the Pope's) action comes the denial by the Roman 
Catholics of our position. The historical argument is 
" extraordinarily difficult " if by it alone we hope to arrive 
at a conclusion. But the plain man can decide about the 
immediate fact on the evidence of his own experience 
which is "God's book for each man." Ask, "Am I no 
priest ? Are my communions frauds ? " " So many of 
our sort get an idealised Rome into our heads or a sort of 
fantastic view — I am afraid I shall have to go — or in some 
way or another get beset with an insane sort of judgment 
on the point (on) which we suspect or know ourselves not 
to be sane and which therefore we know we cannot trust, 
and so hover and hover and swing this way and that . . . 
a horrid agony of nightmare." 

For a brief space this letter laid the ghost. The 

appeal to the evident experience of the plain man was, 



to Benson's temperament, irresistible. For a long time — 
to the very eve, in fact, of his reconciliation — he will 
believe himself a priest ; and the inference that where 
the sacraments are, and where grace is given with them, 
there is the Church, seems at first sight irresistible. 

In the June, then, of 1902 he told his mother, as they 
paused upon a little bridge over a brook near Tremans, 
that he had been disturbed in his mind by the vision of 
Rome, but that his mind was once more at rest. Newman, 
however, after the terrible challenge of Augustine's claim 
against the Donatists,^ solemnly cried aloud that he who 
has once seen a ghost can never be as though he had never 
seen it; and so for Hugh Benson too the vision once 
more dawned on his horizon after being only a month 
or two eclipsed. He had promised that nothing should 
be thought or done by him without his telling his mother, 
and "sometime between that and Christmas I had to 
redeem my promise." By the fulfilment of this promise, 
and the careful acquainting of Mrs. Benson and of 
Father Frere of each step in his progress, he rendered 
himself invulnerable, on his conversion, to one whole 
flight of darts, shot by those for whom deceit and 
Catholicism are associated notions, and who cannot 
imagine a conversion honestly carried through. Loyally 
did the recipients of his confidences disabuse his accusers 
in this matter. 

I must therefore try to summarise as clearly as pos- 
sible the theory, or rather the two theories, by which 
during his Mirfield period he justified his position as a 
minister in the Church of England. And here, as always, 
when dealing with what is the combined product of 
direct experience, of introspection, of reminiscence, and 

* Securus iudicat orbis terrarum. 


of the schematising intellect, I will not forget that at any 
given moment of this period Benson might not have re- 
cognised as his what is here assigned to him. It can be 
checked in two ways — first, by his Confessions, on which, 
of course, I draw largely, and second, by his letters of 
this period. And yet everybody knows how, during a 
space of years, the intellect has been subconsciously at 
work upon its material, eliminating, rearranging, focus- 
ing. Who would have supposed that the tempest-tossed 
Augustine — as we see him portrayed long after, when he 
relates his conversion in his own Confessions — was the man 
who in reality had been writing philosophic treatises, and 
commenting on Vergil for hours together, and entertain- 
ing his mother and a group of cultured friends, in the 
villa at Cassiciacum ? that the passionate convert, as 
alone most readers know him, was too the tranquil 
theorist, who decided to embrace Christianity, determined 
all the while that he would have to find nothing wrong 
with Neoplatonism ? You must infuse a considerable 
element of calculation, it may be, into Augustine's Con- 
fessions, to obtain a truthful picture ; and of passion, not 
to say whim, into Father Benson's Confessions, to obtain 
a portrait of the Mirfield Hugh. So too, although we can 
watch him in the letters spoken of above, which have 
already shown him as a man of moods, these may, on 
their side, do so too exclusively, for letters are things of 
the moment, and need, they too, correction. But there 
are some contemporary and deliberately drawn up docu- 
ments which shall guide us. 

For a considerable time then, he considers, he had 
held to the position that the Anglican Church was an 
accurate, or fairly accurate, restoration of the teaching in 
vogue at a " Primitive " period, considered, on the whole, to 


have existed down to the end of the fifth or sixth century, 
or perhaps up to the Fourth General Council inclusive. 
Then corruption had set in : Rome and Constantinople 
had piled up their excesses ; the Nonconformists, by 
defect, had dropped out altogether. The theory is a 
familiar one, and very simple at first sight. It demanded, 
however, that one should admit the "failure of Christ's 
promises " for a thousand years ; it assumed, too, that 
the reconstruction of primitive doctrine was an affair of 
historical research, to be demanded, presumably, from 
experts. Archaeology had at no time much fascination 
for Hugh. He demanded a living voice in a modern 
world. Clear that the Prayer Book was no more of a 
living voice than the Bible, he turned to "the only 
elements in the Church of England which bear any 
resemblance at all to a living voice — the decisions of 
Convocation, the resolutions of Pan-Anglican Conferences, 
and the utterances of Bishops" — with the result that he 
found them contradictory, or dumb, or, as he naively 
owns, they answered "in a manner which I could not 
reconcile with what I was convinced was the Christian 
Faith." He never, that is, expected to find in them a 
voice endowed with even that minimum of authority 
which should govern at least his exterior consent and public 
teaching. Modify it indeed he did, but according to what 
the clergy of the churches he visited might expect. The 
shape, colour, and adornment of their stoles proved, he 
says, a fairly accurate barometer of doctrine ; it was 
more confusing when vestments were worn indeed, but 
only at services to which ''important Protestants did not 
come." To veil your language, to utter discourses fully 
intelligible to a select few, might amuse a naughty boy, 
still at the age of plots and codes and ciphers, but was 


intolerable to a grown man of passionate sincerity. But 
merely to preach a few great truths, such as the Father- 
hood of God, or the all-importance of the Person of 
Christ, trusting that these would " find their normal out- 
come in doctrines which Christ, the Father's Utterance, 
meant to be taught, but His official representatives dared 
not teach," was torture to one whose whole Christian posi- 
tion, collegiate and personal, implied that Christ spoke 
through a Church, and the Church through her priest. 

By instinct Benson hated Gnosticism, and the cult 
of the 61ite, and the disciplina arcani. There was a sphere 
in which he gave rein to his schoolboy love for plot and 
counterplot, but it was that of personal or domestic 
politics, not of essential religion. And he could not but 
feel nervous when he found that on almost every point 
which he considered thus essential, he had to act un- 
supported by, if not in defiance of, the officials of his 

At this point, therefore, he found himself obliged to 
alter his basal theory. He no longer proclaimed the 
Church of England the purest of the three great Churches 
on which alone his view was focused ; and he abandoned 
any attempt to find a definite voice, or organ for a voice, 
in that Church. He regarded the Church, now, as equally 
composed of Roman, Eastern, and Anglican, and their 
" silent consent " was their authoritative voice. Where 
they did not deny, they taught. The whole difficulty 
now appeared to be to keep Canterbury quiet enough ; 
if she spoke, she might speak heresy. Moscow nobody 
listened to ; Rome spoke, presumably the truth ; England 
as a whole muttered a good deal, but inaudibly for the 
most part, and anyhow so obscurely that you might say 
she did not explicitly disavow her sisters. The Thirty-nine 


Articles were ** explained away in the manner familiar to 
Anglican controversialists." ^ Father Benson therefore 
declares himself to have believed in the Church Diffusive ; 
from such communities as had retained the Apostolic 
ministry and the Creeds, a kind of general consent exhaled 
itself, though how this inarticulate conviction was to be 
stated in dogmatic forms remained a puzzle ; doctors 
would most certainly disagree ; to whom should the un- 
lettered layman, not skilled in diagnosing the constituent 
elements of belief, while held as it were in solution and un- 
precipitated, appeal ? " Well, . . ." argued Father Benson, 
" to a clergyman who acknowledges, with me, the Church 
Diffusive in my sense." Having thus packed one's jury, 
and being oneself the judge, there should be no great 
difficulty about a satisfactory verdict. 

But, as I said, no honest man could, in this frame of 
mind, feel secure. It was at this time that his second 
attack of anxious surmise supervened. 

He therefore made one new clear statement of the 
Diffusive Theory, and sent it to the Rev. G. Tyrrell, S.J., 
under cover of the following letter. I quote the letter 
in full : the statement will be seen in the Appendix, 
Vol. II., p. 451. 

Private and Confidential. 

House of the Resurrection, 


Rev. and dear Sir, — You will pardon a complete 
stranger troubling you ? I have had the pleasure of 
reading most of your books, and feel that, if you will 
allow me, I can more easily consult you about the position 
I am in, than anyone in the Roman Catholic Communion. 

For about five years I have had, from time to time, 
strong drawings towards " Rome." In attempting to test 
the nature of these drawings, I have practically always found 

' Confessions, p. 74. 


that my motives were so mixed and second-rate, that I could 
not in any way clearly distinguish the motions of the Holy 
Ghost ; and it appeared to me my duty to regard them as 
assaults upon faith. Again and again I came to the con- 
clusion, after thought and prayer, that God had placed me 
in an extremely difficult position in the field of His Church, 
and that it would be a terrible breach of trust to leave it. 

Since Lent, however, these drawings have appeared 
more strongly than ever. Very frequently, however, I 
still detect among them second-rate motives of personal 
tendencies and "policy," as well as definitely evil motives 
of a love of ease, and subtle forms of pride, poisoning 
all the springs of thought. Again and again some humilia- 
tion has turned my thoughts to the Roman Communion 
as a way of escape. But I feel that, in spite of these evil 
and inadequate motives, something more is behind ; and 
I cannot tell whether the voice is the voice of God or not. 

There are, too, to my mind, several very real and 
weighty obstacles in the way of my submission to " Rome " 
(if, mdeed, they are not Divine warnings) ; and it is about 
those obstacles that I chiefly wish to make inquiries. 

In the meantime, I am learning, I think, more than 
ever that faith is a gift, and not a climax of intellectual 
processes ; and it is this gift that I lack. If Rome alone 
is the Catholic Church, I lack it ; or if the Church of 
England is part of the Catholic Church, I tend to lack it. 
At present the phrase " I believe in the Catholic Church " 
means little more to me than that I believe there is such 
a thing. 

But whether these drawings are of faith or temptation, 
I am unable to follow them until I am in good faith as 
regards intellectual difficulties. Of course I am quite 
willing to leave many obscure things unsolved ; but it 
cannot be right to act clean contrary to what does not 
seem obscure at all, but perfectly clear. Some of the 
questions on the paper that I enclose seem to me perfectly 
clearly against "Rome." And it is only this deepening 
touch on my soul (whether of God or the Evil One I am 
not sufficiently spiritual to distinguish), which makes me 
even discuss these questions with myself, and ask whether 
I am right or wrong in my intellectual conceptions. 

The enclosed papers contain the chief of my difficulties, 
and I should be most deeply grateful if the papers might 
be returned to me annotated with comments, or with 


references to books that I should read. I am willing too, 
of course (and should be grateful), to see yourself or 
anyone that you recommend, if that is right, and to 
observe any course of devotion or reading that is advisable 
so far as these things are within my power. But I am 
naturally tied to a certain extent by the conditions of my 
life here. 

But I am above all anxious to avoid anything approach- 
ing a controversial tone. If a certain tone (which for 
want of another term one must call controversial) is at all 
prominent in the books one is recommended to read, one's 
heart so quickly turns to self-defence, and becomes hard 
and closed to truth. In more than one " Roman " book 
I have read lately I have been rendered incapable of 
appreciating fully the force of arguments, because it seemed 
as if the writers desired to bully me ; and as they were 
unable to judge dispassionately, they have attributed false 
motives, and misrepresented facts in connection with the 
Church of England. And it is partly for this reason that I 
am presuming to write to you, since I feel sure that you 
know that sincerity is not wanting to our clergy, and that 
the ''Catholic Movement" in the Church of England is 
not mainly supported by blasphemous fools who like 
playing at being priests, and that at least some of our 
leaders possess common honesty and sense. 

My questions I have tried to expound in the simplest 
possible form, as I wish to avoid even the appearance of 
argumentation. It is not my wish to attempt to prove 
anybody wrong, but only to be convinced of the truth 
whatever that may be ; so I have thrown all my defences 
open, so far as I have been able. 

On the top of all this egotism may I add a little more ? 
as I do wish as far as possible to put before you all the facts 
— others besides those on which I desire to consult you. 

I. So far as my knowledge of myself extends, I believe 
that I am sincere, and that there is no selfish desire in me 
strong enough either to hold me where I am, or to send 
me to " Rome." Of course it is only too possible that I may 
be in a state of dreadful self-deception ; but at least I am 
under the impression that I will submit to the Catholic 
Church — in fact, that I am already in a state of submission, 
so far as the gift of faith is granted me. Much of my 
darkness, however, if not all, may well be the result of 
sins against faith. 


2. At present I am full of preaching engagements up 
to and beyond Easter, and at present I intend to fulfil 
them. If, however, these difficulties of mine appear ade- 
quately solved, and the interior drawing continues, I 
should contemplate cancelling my engagements, and living 
a retired life for some months before taking any further 
step — unless, that is, the call became insistent and irre- 
sistible, but at present I should be inclined to distrust 
such a call. 

3. The question of Holy Orders does not much trouble 
me. I am sufficiently satisfied of my priesthood to have 
no scruple in ministering at the altar and to penitents. 
I am also sufficiently satisfied of the imperativeness of the 
voice of the " Catholic Church " to believe what I am told 
— at least, I hope so. 

4. I fear I must ask you to regard my letters as altogether 
confidential. To say no more, my debt of gratitude to the 
Community of the Resurrection, of which I am a member, 
makes me eager to avoid anything that would unnecessarily 
injure its influence. But I should be extremely grateful if 
you would allow me to show anything that you might write 
to me, to my superior, with whom I am on terms of com- 
plete confidence on this matter, and to one or two other 
discreet friends. Those I have consulted so far have not 
helped me very much, except by the reassurance of their 
personal character and learning, and by the fact of their 
contentment with the position of the Church of England. 

5. As regards my special reading on this subject, I 
have read several of the ordinary controversial text-books 
on either side : Dr. Rivington's, Mr. Richardson's, and one 
by a member of the Society of lesus, on the Apostolic 
Office, and such answers to them as exist ; and the result is 
pure bewilderment. All that I can deduce is that a devout 
and learned man can, sincerely, find in history exactly 
what he expects, and that every theory of Church order 
can equally be shown to be possible, or disproved, by the 
statements and significant silences of history ; and that 
all that one can say is that some theories seem less out 
of the question than others. On the whole, however, 
the book that impressed me most deeply is Newman's 
Development of Doctrine — although every now and then I 
am suddenly seized with a distrust of his mind and 

What I think would be of most value to my state and 


constitution of mind (though I dare say I am completely 
wrong) is a catena of Fathers, which I could verify, on the 
See of Peter as the necessary centre of unity, and the 
Petrine texts, as well as a reference to some book dealing 
with the schism of East and West dispassionately — giving, 
I mean, a record of facts with as little comment as possible. 
I have, of course, also consulted other writers on particular 

6. The Reformation period seems to me the strongest 
argument for " Rome " in one sense. One has little doubt, 
given fortitude, on which side one would have been. So 
I need no pressure on that point. Yet, I find myself, by 
the Providence of God, in the English Communion, which, 
after all, has shown a marvellous sacramental vitality, and 
I feel bound to give great weight to that fact, so long as it 
is possible to remain in good faith. 

Especially, dear sir, I ask the charity of your prayers. 
If, too, you could say a Mass for me, I should be deeply 
grateful. Some curious coincidences have taken place in 
my life in connection with devotion to the Holy Ghost and 
this subject, and if there were any devotions of the kind 
in which my needs could find a place, I feel sure that it 
would greatly help me. 

I feel, indeed, how much I am asking of you, and how 
great my debt of gratitude will be if you should help me, 
in any direction, towards a solution of these difficulties. 

If any expressions in my letter, or in the enclosure, 
seem to you presumptuous or offensive in any way, may I 
ask your pardon beforehand ? 

Believe me, dear and rev. sir, yours faithfully in Christ, 

Hugh Benson. 

The Rev. Fr. Tyrrell. 

Disastrously enough, one page only, numbered 8, of 
Father Tyrrell's answer survives. It contains a very clear 
and theological note on the first suggestion in section iv. 
of the statement, and the beginning of a note on section v. 
In his letter the priest distinguished carefully between the 
dogma of the Church — the wording of the Vatican formula 
he considered " minimising "—and the practical policy and 
tone, so to speak, of the Church, which he called maxi- 


mising. He being a minimiser, could remain where he 
was, but felt a certain reluctance (which was not indeed 
logical, but had in it a certain delicacy of feeling with 
regard to the appropriate, and a tenderness of apprehension 
lest a convert, admitted on Tyrrell's lines, should find 
himself disillusioned and dipaysi in so alien an atmosphere) 
for " receiving " an inquirer. He ended by begging Benson 
to remember him in his mass, a request full of Tyrrell's 
irony, in any circumstances, and doubly so in these. At 
this time Tyrrell was not known, even among his associ- 
ates, for the openly modernistic attitude he afterwards 
assumed, and had scarcely published even pseudonymously 
the books which afterwards made him so well known. 
Benson's eye was quite unlikely to detect the theological 
flaws or dangerous tendencies which expert scholastics 
already observed in his books, and was, like so many others, 
utterly captivated by the indescribable charm of Tyrrell's 
style, the lucidity of his expositions, and the warmth of his 
charity still so noticeable. 

"Father Tyrrell," he exclaims, "always seems to me 
to say the last possible word ! " ^ 

Disconcerted by Tyrrell's rebuff, he accepted for a 
moment the interpretation placed upon it by those whose 
judgment he valued, and decided he was meant to stay where 
he was. Almost immediately the pendulum swung back, 
and he implored leave to cancel his winter engagements. 
Superiors prescribed the drug of work, and kept him to it. 

He put himself in touch, however, with the Rev. 
Spencer Jones, in whom, if in anyone, he felt, he could 
find help in his difficulties. 

The Rev. Spencer J. Jones, rector of Moreton-in-the- 
Marsh, was invited in November, 1899, by the Association 

^ spiritual Letters^ p. 16, 
I O 


for Promoting the Unity of Christendom (the A.P.U.C.) to 
preach one of a series of sermons, bearing upon reunion, 
on the Saints' days of 1900. The feast of St. Peter was 
ceded to Mr. Spencer Jones, at his request, owing to his 
attention having recently been focused on the Petrine 
aspect of Church unity by a book published in 1895 {The 
Gift of the Keys) by Canon Everest of Truro, an Anglican. 
From November, 1899, to June, 1900, Mr. Spencer Jones 
prepared his address, which was in fact delivered to a 
select audience of men profoundly interested in the ideals 
of the A.P.U.C. The address, which was prefaced by a 
Bidding Prayer, lasted an hour and a half ; and, having 
been invited afterwards to publish it, Mr. Spencer Jones 
found that it grew beneath his hands to the dimensions of 
a book, which appeared on January 13, 1902, under the 
title, England and the Holy See, an Essay towards the Reunion 
of Christendom. To this Lord Halifax contributed an 
Introduction. A first edition ran out in eight months ; and 
later in the same year (1902) a cheaper and much abridged 
edition appeared and proved so permanently popular 
that it has been issued in a cheap shilling form as late as 
the end of 1914. 

It is by the courtesy of Mr. Spencer Jones himself that 
I am able to give what I can safely assert to be an equit- 
able account of his thesis. 

It is assumed that reunion among Christians is a 
consummation to be hoped and worked for. The ideal 
has been pursued, however, with too much sentiment, 
too little of the scientific spirit. Science observes ; makes 
experiments ; travels towards hypothesis, adopting a " work- 
ing hypothesis " directly it can ; and thence, to theory. 
Thus, in politics, a Bill precedes an Act. But as a Bill 
will be discussed as though it were already on the 


statute book, so hypotheses must be discussed as though 
they were already ascertained facts. 

Let us assume as hypothesis, Rome is Right. All dis- 
cussions hitherto have assumed anything and everything ex- 
cept this. Yet, as the route by which Ladysmith was actually 
relieved was the one route pronounced by experts on the 
spot to be impossible, so the rightness of Rome may prove 
to be the one hypothesis always needed and never made. 

Now : if none of the Christian bodies consent to 
change, reunion clearly, even approximation, is impossible. 
Each body then must consent to change " after its kind," 
when and as it can. Now consider Rome, unique among 
Christian bodies for its commanding position, its numbers, 
and its claim to infallibility. Rome can change in dis- 
cipline, not in dogma. Hence, towards reunion, she can, 
by the law of her organism, contribute modifications in the 
former, "explanations" of the latter: that is all. To ask 
more, is to ask her for suicide. She could not even 
begin to change herself structurally, i.e. dogmatically, 
because, the essential law of her existence being Infalli- 
bility, to annul that would mean to take her own life. But 
no other community, however wrong, need be doomed if it 
changes ; they all can alter their fundamental laws, because 
they do not profess, they explicitly deprecate, their own 
infallibility ; and, in history, they have so changed. 

England's relation with Rome is unique. England is 
of all nations, Duchesne has said, that one whose ecclesi- 
astical origins are linked most evidently with the Apostolic 
See. Henry's " act of supremacy " was an act of violence 
and fraud which wrenched England away from the 
Rome of his day despite herself : modern Englishmen 
cannot be assumed even to understand the Roman 
position they controvert. 


Since Anglicans admit Roman Orders, but Rome does 
not admit Anglican, it is but reasonable for the former 
to accept the ordination rite of the latter, but unreasonable 
to expect Rome to accept that of England. 

That corporate reunion is possible, is proved (we now 
see), on a small scale, by the Franciscans of New York, 
and, on a larger, by various Eastern Communities. 

Mr. Spencer Jones, having formulated this theory, 
proceeded to argue that it should not prove impossible 
for Anglicans to see their way to reducing it to practice, 
and to join in establishing, no mere friendly confederation 
of Churches organically separated, but a single body, 
professing one faith, using identical sacraments, in sub- 
ordination, not only de facto accepted but de iure imposed, 
to the Apostolic See. Indeed, the Pope, it could be 
already held by them, is the Head of the Church not 
merely de iure ecclesiastico, but de iure divinoy and is to 
have been so appointed by Christ not alone politically, 
for government, but spiritually, for teaching. Hence 
even infallibility may be predicated of him, inasmuch 
Christ promised inerrancy to His Church as a whole, 
and she may express her universal faith not only through 
the general belief and practice of her children, or the 
collective voice of her bishops in council, but through her 
Supreme Pastor regarded not as a separate oracle but as the 
mouthpiece of the whole.^ Union with Rome was neces- 
sary not alone for the bene esse of a Church, but normally 
and in the long run for its esse. A dislocated limb is not eo 
ipso dead, though, if it be not swiftly restored to its proper 
play within its socket, it will soon need amputation, and 
meanwhile it suffers and is relatively useless. 

^ Contemporary Catholic appreciation of Mr. Spencer Jones's book, and the 
theological elucidation of this point in particular, may be judged by three 
leading articles in the Tablet, March 15 and 22, and April 5, 1902. 


Reunion, therefore, must be zealously sought for ; but, 
for those who believed the Anglican Church to be thus 
sick and dislocated, corporate reunion might be ambitioned. 
He only who believed himself to be, because within the 
Anglican Church, therefore outside the body of the 
Catholic Church, need feel individual submission to be 
imperative. Were it asked of men who professed their 
conviction that the Pope's voice was infallible in faith 
and morals, why they did not submit to the unvarying 
utterance of Rome — that the Anglican Church was no 
Church, and that it was the duty of each Anglican to 
" come in," the answer was the old appeal from the Pope 
ill-informed to the Pope better-informed : the Italian Curia 
as probably misunderstood the Anglican position as 
average Englishmen quite certainly were ignorant of the 
real doctrine and guarantees of Roman Catholicism. But 
a disciplinary decree based on a misunderstanding could 
be disregarded ; while if the Anglican Church were a 
part of the Catholic Church, the Pope's voice, uttering 
what she disbelieved in, was speaking not according to 
the faith of the Church as a whole, and was therefore 
not infallible.^ 

Benson, as a direct consequence of his study of 

Mr. Spencer Jones's book, wrote to him in May, 1902, as 

follows : 

House of the Resurrection, Mirfield, 
May, 1902, 

Dear Brother, — Will you pardon a complete stranger 
writing to you on the subject of your most interesting 
book England and the Holy See ? I borrowed a copy the 

^ Of quite modern defenders of this position the Rev. Ronald Knox, the son 
of the Bishop of Manchester, is, I imagine, the best known and certainly the 
most brilliant ; he, in his Reunion all Round, reduces the venerable idea of 
reunion by any means other than Rome to so relentless an absurdum, that he 
makes his readers fear for the validity of his own case. 


other day which I must return immediately ; and we have 
not yet a copy of our own here, so that I am not sure 
that I will be able to look up any references in it to which 
you might direct my attention, should you care to answer 
my letter. 

But I write to ask a question which possibly you may 
not wish to answer, but I am encouraged from your book 
to hope that you will ; but if you do not care to answer it 
I shall perfectly understand that it is a subject you might 
not wish to discuss with a stranger. But before I ask it, 
may I say how deeply interested I am in the book, and 
how completely, so far as I have had time and possess 
capacity to study it, my own opinions accord with those 
put forward in it ? 

You seem, apart from details, to establish — (i) that the 
Primacy of Peter is of Divine origin ; (2) that there is no 
demand made by the See of Peter, to be held defide as a 
term of communion, which is impossible to concede. 

Therefore, does it not seem a duty to submit to that 
See ? For Rome herself states, normally, that it is neces- 
sary to salvation : and, granted (i), I do not see what 
obstacle can justify anyone, priest or layman, in refusing 
to obey the call of him whom our Blessed Lord appointed 
to rule His Church. For if (i) is true, surely there can 
be no jurisdiction apart from that divinely appointed 

There are, of course, many reasons for hesitation : the 
fact of having implicitly to deny the validity of one's own 
sacramental acts, if that is to say, one is to serve as a 
priest in the Roman Church ; the fact of finding oneself 
placed providentially in this part of Christendom ; the 
fear of being blinded by the extreme discomforts of the 
Anglican position — are all sufficient to make one hesitate 
a considerable time before taking such a serious step. 

But I wish to get the ground clear, so far as may be, 
before anything else ; and your own book stating, as it does, 
so many of my own convictions, and emanating, as it 
does, from one who is still content to minister in the 
Church of England, has encouraged me to ask whether 
you can give me further data or references in the direction 
I have indicated. 

May I add further that I am aware that many, with 
great reason, believe that the Church of England has a 
work to do in the world of a peculiar delicacy. But this 


scarcely justifies one who believes in the Primacy of Peter 
from remaining in her if she is schismatic — quite apart 
from the fact that she permits heresies to be openly con- 
fessed and taught by her accredited teachers. I have read 
the common and more recent books of controversy on 
both sides ; but there seems to me to be too much dust of 
battle and of partisan feeling in them to be of much use in 
clearing one's own vision. 

I am afraid this letter is most inadequate — yet I hope 
it will be sufficiently clear in putting before you my 
particular difficulty. 

I shall be grateful if you will be kind enough to regard 
this letter as strictly confidential. If you wish your letter 
to be regarded in the same way would you kindly mark it 
so ? But if you can see your way to it, I should be grateful 
if you will allow me to discuss your answer with one or 
two friends, and especially with the Superior of the 
Community, Fr. Frere. 

Believe me, yours faithfully in O.B.L., 

Hugh Benson. 

P.S. — I would like to add one word more. 

The commonly held Anglican theory of Church govern- 
ment, in its best form, appears to be that all bishops are 
essentially equal, not only in the sacerdotium, but as re- 
gards government ; and that the Primacy of Rome, like a 
Patriarchate or like the Primacy of Canterbury, may be for 
the dene esse, but not esse of the Church — not, that is to 
say, of Divine origin. And next, that there are certain 
demands made by Rome, that may be true in themselves, 
but uncatholic in that they are unjustifiable terms of com- 
munion ; and that therefore for the sake of the liberty of 
truth Anglicans may at any rate resist what would other- 
wise be for the peace of the Church. This, if it is held, 
appears a reasonable ground for remaining in the Anglican 
Communion — but, as I understand your book, you tend, 
at least, to demolish this theory. 

As regards infallibility ; that does not seem a difficulty. 
Granted the Divine origin of the Primacy of Peter, that 
Primacy is an essential mark of the Church ; and if one 
holds — as I myself certainly do — the infallibility of the 
'' Church," that infallibility must certainly reside in the 
communion of Peter. But I have been accustomed to 
believe and teach that the infallible authority resided in 


the consent of Christendom — whether conciliar or diffusive. 
This of course stands or falls, as a possible theory, with 
the Anglican conception that I have tried to state above. 

Please understand how fully aware I am of the in- 
adequacy of this letter. But I have deliberately omitted all 
that appears to be of the nature of side-issues ; on the 
understanding that in the main I believe that I hold very 
much what your book would lead me to think that you 
yourself hold. H. B. 

Mr. Spencer Jones answered, never having met Father 
Benson, but knowing him by reputation only, in a letter 
which was either lent and not returned, or, I surmise, in 
consequence of some explicit request, destroyed, for at 
this period and later Benson kept letters quite regardless 
of the triviality or the reverse of their contents. He 
emphasized, however, his desire that Father Benson 
should keep his Superior continuously informed of the 
correspondence thus initiated. On May 23 Benson 
answered by a short note, expressing his fear lest he 
might be yielding to the temptation to desert a " difficult 
and it may be all but untenable position in the battle, 
and yet a vital one, for one of comparative ease and 
security." To disentangle motives was deplorably difficult. 
Hence the value of Mr. Spencer Jones's book, which 
diverted attention from self to objective facts. Yet 
self-knowledge was necessary to avoid a biased inter- 
pretation of those very facts. . . . How imperative, then, 
to hesitate I 

On May 27, he followed this up with a letter in which, 
after deploring the fact that men who deny dogmas 
explicitly stated in the Creeds — such as the Virgin Birth — 
are tolerated in the Church of England, he continues : 

What you say about Round Table conferences is most 
interesting and most inspiring, and I hope really that the 
idea will not be allowed to drop altogether. The very fact 


of holding such a conference, apart from any intrinsic 
good that might result, would awaken people to the fact of 
the disunion of Catholic Christendom. The saddest fact 
about the whole question is that the majority of English- 
men take it for granted (i) that the Church of England 
approximates towards Protestantism, and that reunion with 
them and the recognition of Protestant principles are 
natural and obvious things to be desired ; (2) that the 
Church of England is separated by an impassable gulf 
from i Catholic Christendom, and that reunion in that 
direction is impossible, and the desire for it disloyal. 

And a little later he says ; 

The book that you speak of, to come out in two years' 
time, is just what is needed. The modern controversial 
books seem to me hopelessly inadequate. They are too 
obviously and confessedly written for a purpose ; and 
many of them, no doubt in good faith, omit things that 
seem to oneself vital, but which seem to the writers as 
beside the point : e.g. the strongest argument, to my 
mind, against Rome, consists in the remarkable omissions 
in the Fathers, &c. St. Vincent and St. Chrysostom both 
give an account of steps to be taken to ascertain what is 
the Faith, which, as it appears to me, could not by any 
stretch oif imagination have been written by a modern 
Roman doctor — not from what they do say but from what 
they don't say. Now that is the kind of argument one 
wants thoroughly dealing with ; especially by parallel 
passages in more modern divines, showing, e.g.^ that the 
Primacy of Rome and the necessity of communion with 
her was so obviously taken for granted that these saints 
did not mention it. One wants to have the broad historical 
situation before one and not minute wrestlings over detail, 
and sometimes little schoolboy slaps at opponents. A 
large book consisting chiefly of extracts, with few or no 
comments, except purely historical, would, it seems to me, 
meet this want in a way it has never been met yet. And I 
do hope and pray there may be no disputed passages in 
the book : disputed, I mean, as to their authenticity. There 
is nothing that causes more miserable confusion and im- 
puting of evil motives and bitter sarcasm on both sides 
than that. 


The hoped-for conferences were made possible when, 
in February, 1903, it was decided to form a society of 
men in sympathy with the drift of Mr. Spencer Jones's 
essay. The inaugural lecture was given in October, 1903, 
to the Society of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and was 
published under the title of Rome and Reunion. The 
book which Benson hails as needed and imminent never 
appeared in that form. Its place may have been taken 
by; ^'g', The Prince of the Apostles, to which Mr. Spencer 
Jones contributed a preface and some of the chapters. 
After the letter of May 27, Benson wrote no more to Mr. 
Spencer Jones till he had been received into the Church 
in the September of 1903, and indeed announced that 
event to him neither before nor after its occurrence, 
though he knew Mr. Spencer Jones had been familiar 
with Woodchester. This I somehow find characteristic : 
he was at all times singularly detached from persons : it 
was in moments of enthusiasm, e.g. after reading a book 
by an author which had struck him, that he would neglect 
convention and introduce himself : he rarely looked 
backwards, least of all, perhaps, when, as at Woodchester, 
his whole attention was fixed upon the future. However, 
this singular acquaintance was not altogether dropped. 
The Society of St. Thomas of Canterbury meets in May 
and November, and it is a rule that the May meeting 
should be addressed by a Catholic. In May, 1908, at 
Mr. Spencer Jones's request. Father Benson gave the 
lecture, taking, once more at the Society's request, " some 
aspect of Infallibility " to speak upon. His lecture has 
since been published by the Catholic Truth Society under 
the title of Infallibility and Tradition.^ 

^ A pleasant little incident survives. " On that occasion, " writes Mr. 
Spencer Jones, who had never seen Benson, and was never to meet him again, 
" I remember when we were waiting for people to arrive, Fr. Sydney Smith 


Benson with considerable acumen fastened on the vital 
point of this discussion, namely, the relation of the Pope's 
infallibility to that of the Church as a whole. It was long 
before he fully satisfied himself as to the sense in which the 
Pope's infallibility could be regarded as separate, or whether 
papal pronouncements had any right to be more than 
expressions of the general belief. Were the papal words, 
so to say, put into his mouth as the result of Catholic 
belief, or could the Pope so speak as to form Catholic 
belief from above ? He was helped towards solving this 
difficult question in the Catholic sense by his monarchial 
predispositions and his entire detestation of dictatorial 
democracy ; ^ but he struggled for a long time, in the 
interests of reconciling the papal supremacy with the 
theory of the Church Diffusive, to assign to the Pope 
something of that position which Father Tyrrell, writing 
as Ernst Engels, did in The Church and the Future. 

Meanwhile he put himself into touch with Father David 
Richards, whom he had known at Cambridge and East 
Mailing. Father Richards was a young man of quite 
exceptionally gentle and lovable character, and his letters 
have much fragrance of affection and reveal a readiness 
to serve his friend to the utmost of his power. He had 
been for some time chaplain to the East Mailing nuns ; had 

said to me, ' I suppose you will begin soon ? ' to which I replied, * When Father 
Hugh arrives.' ' I am Father Hugh,' said the priest who was standing by his 
side. He looked to me almost a boy, I remember." 

^ " Personally," he wrote in 1902, being exercised at the time by the 
thought of the Boer war, " I believe that we are beginning to rot. Every nation 
has its chance, and loses it : and I think we are showing signs of having done 
that. [ • . . ] I am getting rather upset at the way the Church of England is 
going on. It appears to me that she is being guided by popular clamour, instead 
of herself guiding it. And this is upsetting to me who believe that the Church 
is a monarchy, and in no sense a republic. This hateful democratic spirit is even 
daring to lay hands on the Ark itself." 


been received into the Church, and ordained at Rome. He 
was to become, a little later, a member of the Dominican 
Order, and it was owing to this that Father Benson made 
his way to Woodchester for reception. Father Richards 
died in Mexico of consumption. 

Father Benson began to write regularly to Father 
Richards about the middle of July, 1902 ; but the first letter, 
which shows that he had asked the Catholic priest for 
information upon the quality of his theory of the papal 
claim, is dated ist December [1901]. In it Father Richards 
says that he has submitted the difficulty to sundry theo- 
logians, one of whom. Prior Vincent McNabb, O.P., then 
Prior of Woodchester and now of Hawkesyard, Rugeley, 
wrote out an excellent memorandum on the subject. The 
essence of his answer was, naturally, that while there is 
only one "infallibility" granted by Christ, so that no 
rivalry, as it were, of infallibilities is conceivable, infallible 
Pope proclaiming against infallible Church, yet infallibility 
is properly granted to those who possess it ex sese, that is, 
directly and not derivatively. Thus the Pope can speak 
immediately, and yet infallibly, nor does he need to consult 
the Church before speaking, though he may do so, and 
possibly ought to, and usually does.i By far the most 
solemn definition of recent times is that of the Immaculate 
Conception. This was, however, given after prolonged 
consultation only : equally certain is it, that no appeal is 
now theologically conceivable from the voice of a defining 
Pope to a Council claiming, so to say, perhaps to override 
the papal pronouncement. 

^ Much confusion of mind exists among non-Catholics by failing to distinguish 
between infallibility, which is a negative charisma, and inspiration. Infallibility 
means that the Pope is prevented from teaching error ex cathedfu ; not that he 
need receive any special and divine illumination in that teaching, such as is 
essential to inspiration, nor indeed that he need so teach at all, i.e. so far as 
the actual gift of infallibility is concerned. 


" Needless to say, I did not tell [Father McNabb] your 
name/' writes Father Richards, " or that you were on the 
point of making your submission to the Holy See." 

Either then Father Richards misinterpreted Benson's 
nearness to the Church, or the pendulum had swung 
nearer Rome for the moment than it was to remain. 

However, Benson had come across some phrases which, 
if they were accurately quoted (and this I think possible), 
presumably came from the frantic pen of some French 
journalist. The Pope was called " Spouse and Co-partner 
of the Church " ; the Depositum Fidei was " lodged in his 
brain '^ ; a French bishop was fantastically represented as 
saying that the Pope was the Incarnation of the Holy 
Ghost. From these absurdities, which were either never 
spoken, or were due to a rhetoric detestable in taste and 
(objectively considered) heretical in their essence. Father 
Richards had not the slightest difficulty in turning Ben- 
son's mind to the necessary dogma and the authoritative 
meaning of its formula. 

Besides Father McNabb, Dom John Chapman, O.S.B., 
of Erdington, was being enlisted by Father Richards to 
help his friend. Dom John had received Father Richards 
into the Church, and to him Father Richards used to 
forward Benson's letters, which profoundly impressed 
him with the candour and intelligence of their writer. 
The name and address were at first carefully cut out, 
so that the identity of the writer was kept concealed. 
Dom John helped Benson much, from the immense 
resources of his patristic knowledge, in regard to historical 
questions relating to the earlier ages of Christianity and 
the Papacy in its less developed form ; in fact, from him 
Benson went nearer than ever else towards getting that 
catena of patristic proof he needed. Dom John showed 


Benson's letters to his colleague, Dom Bede Camm, well 
known for his historical works upon the English Martyrs 
and the Reformation period generally; so Benson had 
enlisted on his side experts who should guide his dogmatic 
inquiries and historical researches ancient and modern 

In Lent, Benson was sent with Father G. Waldegrave 
Hart to conduct a mission at St. Giles's, Cambridge. It 
was the last he was to preach as an Anglican, and it 
was to him a source of mingled joy and horror. As a 
mission it was successful. "Your sermons," wrote the 
Rev. J. Buxton, the vicar, " have had more effect in 
stirring men to think than any effort of the kind which 
has been made for them at St. Giles's since I came here." 
Yet, again and again, after his sermon, he would come 
back to the room he shared with Father Hart, and, bury- 
ing his face in his hands, would groan, " I cant go on." 
To preach, when perchance he had not been " sent," 
was agony to him.^ 

On Easter Sunday he preached on St. Mary Magda- 
lene at Tunbridge Wells, and never again entered an 
Anglican pulpit. 

Very exhausted and depressed he went to Tremans 
"for peace and quiet." There he found his two brothers, 
and after a time complained that he was being drawn by 
them into theological discussions. "But, to be quite 
honest," wrote Mr. A. C. Benson on April 20, "you have 
of late become so silent on other topics that it is diffi- 
cult to know quite what to talk about — and as a family 
we must talk, or, like the lady in Tennyson, we shall die." 

^ This mission gave him new light upon the conditions of people he had 
long lived among. He wrote to a friend : " Bedmakers and gyps have a harder 
time than I ever thought. Did you realise that a bedmaker cannot receive Holy 
Communion in term time unless she has a special service before 6 o'clock a.m. ? " 


Hugh recognised that, though he undoubtedly felt 
"chivied," he could not free his talk from the obses- 
sion of his thoughts, and found his brothers nothing but 
what was " generous and affectionate." There was no 
suggestion that any sort of quarrel might be threatened, 
nor that he would find it difficult, at any time, to visit 
his home. 

At this time his position was communicated to the 
Community at Mirfield, who themselves behaved with 
nothing but tact, affection, and simplicity. He communi- 
cates, too, his distress to the one solitary correspondent 
from whom to the end he held but little back. 

April 20 [1903]. — I am greatly disturbed in my mind 
about the Church of England. It is a dreary old story, 
I fear, to us all ; and the air is full of discomfort ; but 
this has "infected" me somehow. 

He has had this trouble, he explains, for rather more 
than a year. Father Frere has known it all that time, and 
has given him leave "to stay at Mirfield without any 
external work for two or three months and devote my 
prayers and mind to the subject." External work leaves 
no time or energy. " Work," indeed, " as an antidote 
has been unsuccessful." 

He foresees that many will consider this to be an act 
of cowardly and thoughtless apostasy, and a betrayal of 
our Lord's confidence. Herein, however, his conscience 
is clear, while 

The question of Orders does not come in at all in my 
difficulties. So far as history and spiritual experience go, 
I am entirely satisfied that I am a priest ; and am continu- 
ing to say Mass with complete serenity. In fact, if all 
else seems shaken, that remains secure. It may sound a 
callous thing to say ; but as far as I myself am concerned, 
I am entirely serene, and not at all upset or anxious. 


One does feel confident that all is in God's Hands. 
Neither do I feel anything but love and honour for the 
Church of England ; and, please God, whatever happens, 
that will continue. 

He writes again upon this subject on April 23, St. 
George's Day, 1903. His correspondent, on her side, 
is to listen to no doubts. She, as he, "is in complete 
peace as regards Sacramental Grace in the Church of 
England." It would be intolerable otherwise. But God 
seems to be " opening new doors without exactly closing 
old ones." 

He is convinced, moreover, that the spirit directing 
them is from God, and quotes St. Ignatius's doctrine that 
the Good Spirit should generate peace. 

Mirfield itself was an " abode of peace " after work. " I 
am working away at a book of fourteenth-century devotions 
that I hope to publish sometime ; and they generate such 
a happy atmosphere." In these simple prayers his spirit 
found, perhaps, its only refreshment during these arid 

Anticipating, I will quote a long letter in which he at 
once guides his penitent in the first stages of her "con- 
version " and indicates to us his method as regards 
his own. 

May 4 [1903]. ... As regards the other matters, I 
entirely agree that you should keep yourself from decision 
so long as you are in this state of health. In fact, the 
only satisfactory decisions that are ever made, I think, 
are those in which God forms a conviction from the 
bottom of the soul upwards, so to speak, so that when 
it reaches the top and emerges into action and manifesta- 
tion it is beyond all question or reconsideration a solid 
conviction of one's entire personality. ... Of course all that 
needs patience and tranquillity ; but it is worth great 
struggles after self-repression to win the solidity of such 
a conviction. [. . .] 



One's soul is in departments. Let me illustrate by a 
diagram. So long as one is in grace, in the "ground 
of the soul " there is always the " spring of water " of 
which Our Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman. This 
spring is continually rising and falling. For perfect 
sanctification it ought to be continually at high flood, 

a = ground of the soul 
(5 = will 
^= heart 
</= intellect 

right up through b, c, and d; i.e. the will should be 
converted, the heart kindled, and the intellect illuminated. 
And that process ought to be practically always in that 
order. First, the will should be converted, so that one 
is entirely resigned, and only desirous of knowing God's 
will ; then the heart is drawn to love it. One becomes 
full of burning desire — and at last the intellect understands 
and perceives. 

Now, for a complete conviction of anything, all these 
compartments of the soul should be filled ; i.e. however 
much one's heart may love the Roman system and 
circumstances, yet one must not go until the intellect is 
either " informed " as to difficulties, or at least " satisfied " 
that there is an explanation somewhere. [. . .] 

If you apply [this thought] to all kinds of souls and 
circumstances, it seems to work out. At the conversion 
of an ignorant sinner, it is wonderful to see how the 
fountain of water that has always been there, though at 
a very low ebb, suddenly rises in a flood and penetrates 
every part of his being ; so that he loves and prefers 
religion to irreligion, and all his intellectual difficulties 
are simply swept away at once. Then after conversion 
it generally ebbs a little ; and the work of sanctification 
consists in the perpetual movement and flow of the 
I P 


" water of life." Every good act of the soul sets it in 
motion ; every sin drives it down again.^ 

On her side his mother wrote : 

April 23. . . . What you say about controversy makes 
me say what has been hovering in my mind of late. You 
said some little time ago that you felt you knew thoroughly 
the side you had been brought up in, and that there was 
no need to go into that any more. I didn't think it quite 
sound at the time, but I scarcely knew why, and now I 
have a clearer view. This — I think your present place is 
clear to you — that must be. But I think the thing, or 
view, one was brought up in is often by no means so clear 
to one in its reasonable largeness as the views one has 
come into later. One takes so much for granted in the 
early years without reasonable examination. Might not 
it be well, at this critical juncture, in order that no 
pains may be spared to omit nothing of the whole case, 
that you should go into it thoroughly with some moderate 
person who has thought out his position ? Of course the 
Archbishop occurs to my mind, merely because he is so 
very moderate, reasonable, and fair, and because I am 
sure he would do anything for your father's son. I 
haven't breathed a word to him about wanting this — and 
of course you may prefer someone else, even if my feeling 
about doing the thing commends itself. Still, I would 
urge it on your consideration. I want you to leave nothing 
undone which would in any way really contribute to a 
knowledge all round. 

No letter could have been more fearlessly generous, 
more large and loyal. Yet one can see that it will be able 
to influence Hugh's mind but little, though it will direct 
his behaviour. There are moments when a man knows 
well enough whether his education has indeed ministered 
adequately to the exigencies of his life ; he gauges his 

^ This ingenious analogy suffers from all the difficulties attendant on any 
division of the soul into "faculties." Where has the "water " sunk to during 
sin ? What if a becomes converted, but not c ; or a, b, and d, and not c ? 
The department <r is a very difficult one to define in strict psychology. On the 
whole, I think Benson would, later on, have inverted the departments c and b. 


power of living off his education, by an innermost experi- 
ence. At a crisis, a man can look round, see what his 
sanctioned past has offered him, and can exclaim, " I am 
dying of this." A nervous man, moreover, tender and 
delicate to a fault in his affections and pieties, may suddenly 
feel that his temper is at snapping-point ; " I cannot stand," 
he avows, " hearing those arguments again." Courtesy can 
only be ensured at the cost of a kind of general deadening 
of the emotions. Finally, the very word " moderation " may 
lash him to indignation. Moderation, he feels, will never 
settle anything to do with Christianity. Nd<p€ koX fiijuvaa 
ama-Telv,^ wrote the cynical poet ; " a godly, righteous, and 
sober life," the Anglican prayer-book asks : " Blood of 
Christ, inebriate me," are the words of a Catholic prayer 
Hugh loved. Quite apart from his absolutely clear per- 
ception of the ultimate scepticism implied in much of the 
cult of " moderation," Hugh felt that any creed that was 
true demanded a tremendous sqlf-surrender. " I believe," 
one wrote timidly to him in later years, "that if only I 
could find myself in Catholicism, I could swim." "Then, 
for God's sake," he answered, " jump ! " 

For the sake of long affection he denied himself the 
happiness of a quick adventure, and returned to plod, 
at Mirfield, at the books. Only, the Community were once 
more apprised of his pain, and betook themselves to prayer 
and kindly silence. 

Early in May, Father Richards writes to him again, 
offering once more the hospitality of Woodchester, its 
peace and width of welcome, and wise "leaving a man 
alone." ^ For the second time, the predestined name of 

^ " Be sober, and remember to distrust." 

2 "You," said Newman once to Dr. Russell of Maynooth, "did more than 
any other to convert me ! " " How ? " asked the astonished priest. " By letting 
me alone," said Newman. 


Father Reginald Buckler recurs beneath his pen. Mean- 
while, the web of prayers Father Benson will so often 
draw around his converts, is closing in upon himself. 
The Dominican nuns have long been praying for him. . . . 
Often the Mass is being offered for him. . . . Only, Father 
Richards urges, let his soul remain alert. A film of 
Quietism, so to say, has dulled the sharp colour of his 
letters lately. . . . Herein is reflected that numbness which 
Benson's overstrain of soul was bringing on him. Two 
days later Father Richards recurs to Quietism, and men- 
tions the Preface, by Father Wilberforce, O.P., to Blosius's 
Institutio Spiritualis, edited by him. The spiritual waters, 
going softly, should refresh the wastes of controversy : he 
has already recommended Manning's Temporal Mission of 
the Holy Ghost; again, the "short pithy sentences " in that 
part of Newman's Loss and Gain entitled Questions for One 
whom it Concerns are thought by him suited to stimulate the 
soul flagging beneath the concatenated arguments. Finally, 
he bids him " rest his mind," wearied of the study of 
the Church's " notes " of unity, apostolicity, and the like, by 
the quiet contemplation of her great glow of Sanctity. 

He was not, however, to find his rest, from books or 
persons, for a while. r, -f ./h. «: to 

His Superior visited Tremans, and on May 27, 1903, 
Mrs. Benson wrote : 

... It has been so good having Father Frere here — he is 
delightful, and I don't wonder at your fondness for him. 
We talked long and late. I lay awake nearly all night in 
the thought of you, and at 7.30 he celebrated ... it 
calmed all, and made one strong for whatever has to be 

He read your letter quietly through — so I know all 
your mind as expressed there. I feel scarcely to know 
what you and he will come to in talk to-morrow — but I 
cannot believe that in dealing with a man like that, and 


you, there need be, or will be, any bitterness, or rash 
action, or anything for which there should be regret. . . . 
One thing he comforted me upon — he is quite clear about 
your coming home on June 15. That is what I crave for. 

You know how strongly I have felt with you that none 
but the great issues should be considered, and you will 
realise how I have kept all personal feelings out of it to 
the best of my ability. You know well enough what a 
terrible blow any such step would be to me if I looked at 
it personally — what a sorrow it must be, if it happens. 
But this is not the level on which I take it with my heart 
and will. I know your utter sincerity of heart, and I only 
desire that knowledge and thought should come up to 
that — and I am not unmindful — dearest son, how could 
I be ? — of all your pain and conflict and patience — and all 
the gentleness and sweetness which have been growing 
greater day by day. 

Father Frere told me of Lord Halifax's desire that 
you should go out to Italy and see him . . . and now in 
answer to your tender and dutiful wish to see anyone I 
should like you to see, may I say that I do strongly desire 
that you should see him. 

I can't forget how good he was to you in 1901, and I 
know how sweet and altogether acceptable his atmosphere 
and way of looking at things is to you. So I am not 
asking a hard thing. . . . 

No one, Mrs. Benson adds, not even the Community, can 
wish save that you should follow God's guidance " when 
all has been done." The Whitsunday and All Saints' 
collects were felt by her to bring home to the soul the 
facts of ''the guidance of the Comforter and the vision 
of the Blessed Dead." 

Meanwhile he was back in controversy. Father 
Richards himself, at Benson's wish, had to take to argu- 
ment, though none that I else have seen has been so 
sweetened by the charm and humility of the writer. " But 
perhaps," he concludes an argument from authority which 
in effect weighed much with Benson, '' I speak as a fool, 
indeed I am sure I do, if there is anything of my own 


in what I say. . . . Please tell me if my letters worry or 
distract you. Yours help me not a little, for they assist 
me to look at the matter from the point of view of another 
mind ; and perhaps I am too apt to fancy that the road 
I came on is the only one that leads to Rome. — Always 
yours affectionately." ^ 

At Mirfield his reading was terrific in extent. His 
Confessions mention a dismal list : " Dr. Gore's books, 
Salmon on Infallibility, Richardson, Pusey, Ryder, Little- 
dale, Puller, Darwell Stone, Percival, Mortimer, Mallock, 
Rivington ; . . . a brilliant MS. book on Elizabethan his- 
tory . . . and, supremely, Newman's Development and 
Mozley's answer " (p. 99). " To me," he wrote,^ " (New- 
man) is the Prophet, but to many I know he is merely 

But from these a few stand out. 

To Father G. Waldegrave Hart he wrote on May 19 : ' 

But I have just been reading to-day an irresistible book 
— Mallock's Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption. My WORD ! 
It is a masterpiece. Really, honestly, I have practically no 
further doubts. 

I wrote to the Superior yesterday, telling him how 
imminent was my departure, and I feel almost inclined 
to wire to-day. But I shall wait about three or four weeks 
more, and then retire to Retreat. 

This is all very sad. 

^ It is pathetic to notice that one of Benson's by-difficulties, so to call them, 
was the view the Church took about cruelty to animals and the survival of 
their " souls." Father Richards collected a good deal of theological material 
on the topic and forwarded it, with much tolerance of view and wise comment, 
to Benson. 

* Spiritual Letters, p. 31. 

* It is in this letter that a note of intimate pathos occurs. Father Hart was 
ill. " I am grieved to hear you aren't out of pain yet," Benson writes. " But 
'Nay now, it's drawing it out — be still, child.'" These phrases were familiar 
upon the lips of his old nurse, Beth, who used them in the nursery when 
mustard plasters had to be applied to her restive babies. At this crisis in Hugh's 
spiritual growth the words recurred, the more easily because he was schooling 
himself, mentally, to become once more a little child. 


" Mallock," he wrote again {Spiritual Letters, p. 31), "is 
simply overwhelming, and he is not a Roman Catholic." 

Another book whose name often recurs in the letters 
of this period, though not as frequently as Mallock's, is 
Reunion Essays, by Father Carson. In May, 1903, Hugh 
writes to Rev. J. H. Molesworth : 

I have just been reading a fascinating book by Carson, a 
Roman priest, called Reunion Essays. Have you seen it ? 
Its description of the Roman Church as an embryo, 
showing the same characteristics, is very able. He is a 
disciple of Newman, and a great Liberal in theology — 
remarkably so. In fact, he quotes our divines a good deal 
more than his own, especially Gore, though he can't 
follow him in the ''kenotic theories" of "Lux Mundi," &c. 
It is really worth reading from every point of view. 

Father Carson's book was considered in some points 
unsatisfactory by Roman Catholic theologians. This is 
not the place to discuss the extent or character of its 
shortcomings. These need not, at any rate, have been 
such as to preclude it from helping Benson on his Rome- 
ward way. 

But in May he definitely began to struggle. You may 
have seen an animal, which you had thought numbed, if 
not to dying point, at least to non-resistance, fight 
frantically, on a sudden, for its life, and then collapse. 
The fight at least had come. Hugh loved Mirfield, but 
for the moment all he asks is to escape. He begged to 
be released at once from his obligations, and to go and 
stay in a Catholic convent. The atmosphere was stifling 
him ; the chains were breaking him down. 

His Superior, in a kind yet most reasonably firm 
communication, told him that it was impossible for the 
Community or for himself to allow him to go and stay 
in a Roman Catholic convent as long as he was a 


member of a Community which was in all loyalty bound 
to a Church whose authority and communion such a 
convent would repudiate. His "pledge," he urged, still 
bound him, and he could not be released till late in 
August. Profession doubtless was of varying value and 
import to different brethren ; but Benson had wished 
to feel himself to be more and not less definitely pledged 
to the Community. To go over to Rome, Fr. Frere 
declared, was wrong, an error in judgment, a defiance 
of authority, a repudiation of sacraments and graces 
received, and therefore sacrilege. This the Community 
might grievedly contemplate, but not facilitate. To 
Benson, his request for retreat in a Catholic convent 
might appear on a par with that for leave to write to 
Father Tyrrell and Father Richards. No ; that had been 
a policy of hope, in order to keep Hugh back, though 
even to write to Tyrrell appeared to involve some slight 
disloyalty. "To our utter surprise, the answer was a 
more definite decision in that sense than you or I had 
conceived to be possible ; and ... I cannot but think 
that in that unexpected way to which we were strangely 
led you had your real guidance from God." Anyhow, 
he repeated, what Hugh needed was not retreat and 
peace, but " serious examination of the reasonable grounds 
by which your faith ought to be supported ; it is your 
intellect that you have need to give fair play to, rather 
than your soul." Benson had, unknowingly, shirked; 
he had " an unreasoning dread of and grudge against reason 
and intellect." 

You are like a man looking about for a surveyor to come 
and guarantee to him that the foundations of his house 
are secure, rather than run the risk of examining them 
and finding them insecure ; they are secure enough all 


the time, or could quite easily be made so ; but he daren't 
face the risk that it might be otherwise, or contemplate 
the possibility of making necessary alterations or repairs 
in order to make them secure. [He instances Benson's 
terror of Biblical criticism.] Some [he continues] keep up 
their " blind refusal " after going over, to the end, as, for 
instance, Manning, with the result that other honesty 
besides intellectual honesty has become warped and con- 
science has ceased to protest in that sphere. Others, like 
Hutton, Addis, Bradley, and Co., relapse into Rationalism 
or Unitarianism under the angry revenge of the intellect. 
Others, finally, . . . come back to the faith. 

This was heavier artillery, it may be, than was realised 
by the author of the letter which we have summarised. 
Apart from his condemning the jaded man to a further 
instalment of his Sisyphus task, he roused also in his 
brain the spectres of a possible moral collapse, or destined 
rationalism ; of a defiance of God's will already, it may 
be, accomplished, and yet worse projected. Those who 
play on these strings scarcely know how terrific is the 
reverberation, in a tortured brain, of phrases like " return 
to the faith." 

Benson wrestled yet once more. Might he put himself 
into " formal communication with Roman Catholic autho- 
rities during the thirteenth month ? " Well, presumably, he 
might be absent, and no questions asked, should a Chapter 
agree to it. The Community could not grant even this 
" with its eyes open." That is, it could allow it to happen, 
but not explicitly arrange for it. 

Meanwhile a measure of refreshment was to be given 
him. He might leave Mirfield from mid-June to mid- 
July, provided he keeps on neutral ground. He flies to 
Tremans as to a house of refuge ; he will not wait even 
to pack, though in his heart he knows he will never return. 
Yet he, on his side, must tear himself away from the 


house that cHngs to him. He kisses its doorposts as 
he goes, and his heart feels broken.^ 


At Tremans he found his brother Arthur, and from 
his book of reminiscences, Hugh, I will quote the follow- 
ing passages : 

Hugh's dejection, which I think was reserved for his 
tired moments, was not apparent. To me, indeed, he 
appeared in the light of one intent on a great adventure, 
with all the rapture of confidence and excitement about 
him. As my mother said, he went to the shelter of his 
new creed as a lover might run to the arms of his beloved. 
Like the soldier in the old song, he did not linger, but 
"gave the bridle-reins a shake." He was not either 
melancholy or brooding. He looked very well, he was 
extremely active in mind and in body. 

I find the following extract from my diary of August : 

^^ August, 1903* — I^ the afternoon walked with Hugh 
the Paxhill round. Hugh is in very good, cheerful spirits, 
steering in a high wind straight to Rome, writing a historical 
novel, full of life and jests and laughter and cheerfulness ; 

^ J. H. Newman wrote to W. J. Copeland, ot his final departure from 
Littlemore — " I quite tore myself away, and could not help kissing my bed, 
and mantelpiece, and other parts of the house. I have been most happy there, 
though in a state of suspense. And there it has been that I have both been 
taught my way and received an answer to my prayers." Mr. W. Ward has 
reminded us that so, too. Reding, in Loss and Gain, kisses the very willow-trees 
of Oxford when he must leave it. 

Like Newman, too, Hugh looked wistfully back towards the home he was 
never to see again. " I have never seen Oxford since," Newman wrote wistfully 
in 1864, "excepting its spires, as they are seen from the railway." Fate was 
kinder to him than to Benson, and one day he did return. But for Newman to 
return to Oxford was an event of dimensions incomparably vaster than any 
return of Hugh's to any Mirfield. 

Naturally it was felt awkward, at first, by Mirfield, to receive back one so 
frankly an "apostate"; besides, I understand that if permission to return had 
been granted to him, a precedent would have been set which in a particular 
instance it would prove difficult, though expedient, to avoid following. Individu- 
ally, the Fathers of Mirfield showed themselves in no way vindictive ; Benson 


not creeping in, under the shadow of a wall, sobbing as 
the old cords break, but excited, eager, jubilant, enjoying." 

His room was piled with books and papers ; he used 
to rush into meals with the glow of suspended energy, 
eat rapidly and with appetite — I have never seen a human 
being who ate so fast and with so little preference as to 
the nature of what he ate — then he would sit absorbed 
for a moment, and ask to be excused, using the old childish 
formula : " May I get down ? " Sometimes he would come 
speeding out of his room, to read aloud a passage he had 
written to my mother, or to play a few chords on the 
piano. He would not, as a rule, join in games or walks — 
he went out for a short, rapid walk by himself, a little 
measured round, and flew back to his work. He generally, 
I should think, worked about ten hours a day at this time. 
In the evening he would play a game of cards after dinner, 
and would sit talking in the smoking-room, rapidly con- 
suming cigarettes and flicking the ash off with his fore- 
finger. He was also, I remember, very argumentative. 
He said once of himself that he was perpetually quarrelling 
with his best friends. He was a most experienced coat- 
trailer ! My mother, my sister, my brother. Miss Lucy 
Tait, who lives with us, and myself would find ourselves 
engaged in heated arguments, the disputants breathing 
quickly, muttering unheeded phrases, seeking in vain for 
a loophole or a pause. It generally ended by Hugh saying 
with mournful pathos that he could not understand why 
everyone set on him — that he never argued in any other 
circle, and he could only entreat to be let alone. It is true 
that we were accustomed to argue questions of every 
kind with tenacity and even with invective. But the fact 
that these particular arguments always dealt with the in- 
consistencies and difficulties of ecclesiastical institutions 
revealed their origin. The fact was that at this time Hugh 
was accustomed to assert with much emphasis some ex- 
tremely provocative and controversial positions. He was 
markedly scornful of Anglican faults and mannerisms, and 
behaved both then and later as if no Anglicans could have 
any real and vital belief in their principles, but as if 
they must be secretly ashamed of them. It used to remind 

stayed at the home of one of them; and he in his turn made a brief sojourn at 
Hare Street. But to be frank, Benson had been uprooted, and after transplanta- 
tion he was not destined to find any of the old soil clinging about him. 


me of the priest in one of Stevenson's books, who said 
to Stevenson : <' Your sect — for it would be doing it too 
much honour to call it a religion," and was then pained 
to be thought discourteous or inconsiderate. 

Discourteous, indeed, Hugh was not. I have known 
few people who could argue so fiercely without personal 
innuendo. But, on the other hand, he was both triumphant 
and sarcastic. 

Here is another extract from my diary at this time : 

*' August, 1903. — At dinner Hugh and I fell into a fierce 
argument, which became painful, mainly, I think, because 
of Hugh's vehemence and what I can only call violence. 
He reiterates his consciousness of his own stupidity in an 
irritating way. The point was this. He maintained that 
it was uncharitable to say, 'What a bad sermon So-and-so 
preached ! ' and not uncharitable to say, ' Well, it is better 
than the sickening stuff one generally hears ; ' uncharitable 
to say, ' What nasty soup this is ! ' and not uncharitable 
to say, ' Well, it is better than the filthy pigwash generally 
called soup.' I maintained that to say that, one must have 
particular soups in one's mind ; and that it was abusing 
more sermons and soups, and abusing them more severely 
than if one found fault with one soup or one sermon. 

" But it was all no use. He was very impatient if one 
joined issue at any point, and said that he was interrupted. 
He dragged all sorts of red herrings over the course, the 
opinions of Roman theologians, and differences between 
mortal and venial sin, &c. I don't think he even tried 
to apprehend my point of view, but went off into a 
long rigmarole about distinguishing between the sin and 
the sinner ; and said that it was the sin one ought to 
blame, not the sinner. I maintained that the consent of 
the sinner's will was of the essence of the sin, and that 
the consent of the will of the sinner to what was not in 
itself wrong was the essence of sin — e.g. not sinful to drink 
a glass of wine, but sinful if you had already had enough, 

" It was rather disagreeable ; but I got so used to 
arguing with absolute frankness with people at Eton that 
I forget how disagreeable it may sound to hearers — but it 
all subsided very quickly, like a boiling pot." 

Hugh spent his time "working furiously" at the novel 
which was afterwards to become Bjy What Authority? 


I shall speak of it below. It was his Essay on Develop- 

Like Newman, who at Littlemore stood for hour after 
hour at his desk, groaning and weeping, pouring out, for 
all men to read, his interpretation of history which had 
taught him to find living Christianity in Rome, because 
in Rome alone was to be found that force which, in 
change, preserved identity of life, so Benson feverishly 
and in a fashion proper to his personifying temperament, 
traced the course of his own Romeward soul, exulting, 
even in this hour of spiritual weariness, in his creative 
cerebral activity, and he saw that what he made was good. 

His brother, Mr. Arthur Benson, writes that he worked 
at his novel ''with inconceivable energy. His absorption 
in the work was extraordinary. He was reading historical 
books and any books bearing on the history of the period, 
taking notes, transcribing. I have before me a large folio 
sheet of paper on which he has written very minutely 
hundreds of picturesque words and phrases of the time, 
to be worked into the book. 

For a break, Benson went off upon a lonely bicycle 
tour, dressed in lay clothes. To Father G. W. Hart he 
wrote on July 17, 1903 : 

. . . My sister has been ill ; and there are two female 
friends of hers in the house now, with whom I eat my 
meals. Depressing work ! 

I have just been a four days' bicycle tour, and have 
returned a rich mahogany colour. At Rye, I believe, I 
had supper with either Forbes Robertson or his twin 
brother. Such a nice man. We talked about the Papists, 
of novelists, &c., &c. 

Your hymn looks charming. I wish it wasn't in A. 
It is a sealed book to me — that key. And I wish you 

^ By IVhat Authority ? is described below, p. 353 sqq. 


had put B instead of Gj^the last note but one. But the 
tune is excellent. 

His tour had taken him first to Parkminster, the 
famous Charterhouse in Sussex. He was armed with an 
introduction from Father Richards to a convert clergy- 
man who was a monk there ; but found himself regarded 
as a probably complacent critic, and retired chilled, and 
anyhow clear that Parkminster, despite its ominous name, 
St. Hugh's, was not to be the place he should choose for 
that fateful retreat he descried not distant from him. 
He stayed a Sunday at Chichester, confessed, was absolved 
and told to " cheer up " by the clergyman to whom he 
avowed that almost certainly his goal was Rome, and for 
the last time attended a Cathedral service ^ and received 
the Anglican Holy Communion. He bicycled home after 
his passing through Lewes and Rye, by way of May field. 
At the ancient convent walls he gazed with " gnawing 
envy," and prayed, for a moment's peace, in the village 
Catholic Church.2 

In the same letter he says : 

To-morrow I go to Lambeth for a few days, to dis- 
course with the Archbishop, among other things, on MY 
ecclesiastical views. I am going to see Trevelyan and 
Lord Halifax also. But I fear, I tear. . . . 

And to another correspondent he was writing : 

Let me tell you that I am seriously upset in my mind 
about the Church of Rome and the Church of England. 
It is a dreary old story, I am afraid ; but, dreary or not, 
I am one of the characters in it now. Again, don't be 

^ He had once laughed at Cathedral services to Mrs. Benson, but in his heart 
he loved them. 

* Mayfield Convent of the Holy Child consists in part of the ruins of the old 
Palace of the Archbishops. The three magnificent arches of the Great Hall are 
embedded in the architecture of the nuns' chapel. 


alarmed, I am not going to put my arguments before you. 
They are very long and elaborate, and have been gathering 
like a thunderstorm for about a year and a half, and now 
a crash seems close. However, one never knows. I only 
mention it " because you are my friend." 

Of his visit to Mr. Trevelyan he speaks in his Confes- 
sions, p. 118. There this clergyman made use of exactly 
the argument which Benson had used against Father 
Richards. " How," he had put it, " can there be a sacra- 
mental revival where there are no sacraments ? " Now 
the argument had ceased to "appeal" to him, and he 
said, in fact, that it was not cogent. It was " natural," 
he saw, that a revival should move along lines indicated 
by the Prayer Book : God gave greater grace where there 
was greater zeal ; it still was not proved, however, that 
the mode of seeking it was sanctioned by Him. 

His stay at Lambeth was one naturally which de- 
manded extreme forbearance, tact, and intuition. Prob- 
ably there was here a conflict of two temperaments, as 
well as of two theories of religion in ultimate essence 
disparate. Benson in his Confessions says that the Arch- 
bishop was profoundly surprised that he could submit 
to a Church whose methods of worship were in certain 
departments or details distasteful to him. Benson urged 
that, if he went to Rome, he should go as a child ; having 
persuaded himself that there God's voice was speaking, 
he would not quarrel with its formulas, still less with its 
message, not even with its accent. Whether or no the 
Archbishop, as Benson felt, regarded this readiness for 
intellectual submission as immoral, he did not disguise 
from his guest that he felt, as lodged in himself or in 
the Church at large, no supreme and final authority able 
and obliged to impose a dogma finally revealed by 


Christ. Temperament and taste legislated in the ultimate 

As a matter of fact, Hugh, though he respected persons 
whose character claimed respect, had no reverence at 
any time, 1 expect, for personages. The vision of Hugh 
as his father's train-bearer is a charming one ; but he had 
never been, as his brother's curiosa felicitas will have it, 
one of the Nethinim of the sanctuary. 

The Archbishop confessedly found Hugh Benson in- 
tractable, and wrote telling Lord Halifax so. Benson 
went therefore immediately to Hickleton, Lord Halifax's 
house near Doncaster, and stayed there a little over a 
week, including, I gather, two Sundays, on which he 
still communicated with his host. There never had been 
a time when Lord Halifax was anything but utterly sym- 
pathetic and affectionate towards Hugh. The friendship 
persisted absolutely undamaged by the most searching 
cause of separation that human life admits. " Hugh was," 
Lord Halifax wrote to me, after Benson's death, '' a very 
dear friend of mine, and I think one of the very most 
delightful companions it was possible to acquire. One 
may be very fond of many people, whose deaths don't 
leave a sense of life being poorer ; but Hugh Benson's 
death — at least I feel it so — takes something away which 
leaves a particular blank no one else can fill. . . . Some- 
how I cannot fancy him as ever growing old, and perhaps 
his death, coming as it did and when it did, put the seal 
on all that was so delightful and unique in him." 

Mr. Trevelyan had directed Benson's eye to the 
spiritual energy discernible within the Church of England, 
a phenomenon he was in no way concerned to deny ; 
the Archbishop, starting from premises which were not 
Hugh's, ended naturally in an ideal and scheme of duty 


which could even less be his. Lord Halifax's position, 
that the Pope's office, evolved by the force of circum- 
stances in the Church, was imposed at most de iure ecclesi- 
asticOy not de iure divinOy could fairly be set down in 
opposition to Benson's. On this the discussion focused ; 
and Lord Halifax's strongest practical argument was the 
satisfaction expressed by Father Tyrrell and others like 
him, that men could stay and work " where you and I are," 
in view of wider, super-personal, and national issues which 
individual submission could but confuse. He used also 
an argument advanced by Father Waggett of the Society 
of St. John the Evangelist in connection with the appar- 
ently conflicting claims of religion and science, and urged 
that it was possible simultaneously to follow for a while 
lines of knowledge apparently divorced, though tempted 
to sacrifice one of the two for the sake of immediate con- 
sistency. No ; he suggested : there were discontinuities in 
knowledge, temporary at least. Suffer them to be so for the 
time. Keep close to the salient facts, and trust the future. 
Harmonisation would not fail to come, though late. 

But though Lord Halifax could take from Benson 
much of the dreary drag involved in dealing with adver- 
saries who cannot begin to understand a position not their 
own, and though Hugh was bright and at ease, talked 
happily at table, and succeeded in making long excursions, 
in which the Bishop of Worcester (Dr. Gore) was a 
partner, without alluding even once to the cause of his 
stay, of which the Bishop certainly was aware. Lord 
Halifax wrote, when Hugh left Hickleton, that he was a 
" hopeless case," and must be allowed to go. 

To Hugh himself he wrote with great pathos on 
August 25, 1903 : 

I think God has work to be done by us in the position 
1 Q 


in which we find ourselves, work most important in the 
interests of Christendom, and that you will be leaving this 
work, and making it more difficult for others — perhaps I 
should say depriving them of the help which such an one 
as you would so pre-eminently be in bringing people to 
the truth, and helping to undo some of the things done in 
the sixteenth century. . . . 

For the last time Hugh returned home as an Anglican, 
still in the same state of spiritual exhaustion. But it was 
for a few days only. I think he used no more the little 
chapel of which his mother had written exactly a year 
ago : " The whole place is so full of you that it is quite 
comforting to me." ^ 

To Miss Kyle he had written on July 29 : 

I do certainly think that it will end in going ; but it 
has not done so yet ; and I am not absolutely certain. . . . 

I cannot imagine why our Lord is giving me these 
particular months of uncertainty. It seems to me inex- 
plicable. But of course He knows. . . . 

And on August 27 he adds : 

I am so bewildered that it is like a kind of cautery on 
all sensation. I am reading hard some papers a friend 
has sent me [these were from Lord Halifax]. But I 
believe I shall go very soon. 

A little earlier he wrote to Father G. W. Hart, who was 
to leave London for South Africa on September 19th : 

Here things go along. Divine weather. I work furi- 
ously about six hours a day at the very least, and ride a 
bicycle for a couple of hours each afternoon. 

^ This was the oratory which, as I said, with its adjoining rooms, figured in 
The Light Invisible. It was here, too, that he painted (in water-colours) on the 
windows tiers upon tiers of Saints. " They were far more visible," Mr. A. C. 
Benson tells us, "from outside than from within," and their fantastic silhouettes 
won for them the name, among the villagers, of " Mrs. Benson's dolls." Hugh 
was thoroughly pleased with them at first, but afterwards effaced them. He re- 
turned, however, to the chapel later on ; Mass was celebrated there, and the 
whole place is still, if you choose, " full of Hugh." 


People are staying here a lot. 

I haven't the faintest idea of where I shall be September 
12-19. But if I am in London, by Gad, I will let you 
know. But even then I too may be starting for Rome ! 
Quien sabe ? 

However, by September 2, his correspondence with 
Father Richards enables him to tell his penitent that he 
has almost fixed upon a Dominican house for the retreat 
which is now clear before him. But he makes it plain to 
her they must not meet, nor will he hear her confession. 
" Please agree interiorly with me on those points." 

Hugh Benson was involved in one correspondence, 
and one only, involving real bitterness and conflict of 
two souls which should have been at peace with one 
another. Dr. Wordsworth, the late Bishop of Salisbury, 
a very old friend of Hugh's father, has left a name so 
rightly venerated for learning and for virtue that it would 
be preferable in many ways to omit any allusion to his 
letters at this crisis. Nothing could be further from my 
wish than to depreciate a noble memory. Still, the inter- 
change of these letters lashed Hugh's nerves to frenzy, 
and this element in his experiences ought not quite to be 

Writing from Pontresina on August 18, the Bishop 
surmised that Hugh was looking to the Roman Church 
in hopes for a richer Christian life, not through doubt of 
salvation in the English, However, the Bishop considers 

the untruthfulness of the papal system has gone so deep 
into the whole religious life of Roman Catholics, even 
of good men, that it would be vain to seek a higher 
or so high a life among them, as that which is being led 
by many, more quietly perhaps, in the English Church. I 
judge this from the case of an old pupil of mine, one of 


the sweetest natures I ever knew, who visibly deteriorated 
when he became a Jesuit. . . . 

He then discusses the Petrine texts on the old Victorian 
lines, showing the customary misconception of Catholic 
theology. Writing with extraordinary fidelity to the rules 
of the controversy proper to a period now for ever passed, 
he exhorted Hugh to travel before he formed opinions 
about Rome ; he detected in the homage to the Madonna 
and the Saints, and in the " grave deflection of the Eucha- 
rist from its proper purpose," " concessions to heathen 
instincts within the Church." "Christianity went that 
way only in pursuit of secular supremacy." "These," 
says the Bishop most pathetically, having described a 
mentality supremely different in structure and process 
from Hugh's, "are some of the thoughts uppermost in my 
mind, when I try to imagine the reasons which may attract 
men of intelligence to accept Roman claims." 

On the 26th he wrote with, at first, far more insight 
as follows : 

Au^. 26, 1902. 

... It seems to me that you have been called to be a 
teacher and a guide of others too soon in your life, before 
you had settled the nature and grounds of your own belief. 
Am I wrong in thinking that the process of your mind is 
now somewhat as follows ? 

" I feel bound to be a Christian. All my experiences 
point in that direction. I want also to be a teacher and 
preacher. That seems my vocation and my ' talent ' upon 
which I shall have to give an account. But there are 
many things which puzzle and perplex and even repel me 
in Christianity. Nothing but authority can make them 
acceptable to me. I want to live without mental struggle 
and do my work easily. The authority of the Papacy, 
which is at any rate an ancient and a widespread fact of 
Christian history, seems what I need." 

Then secondly : " It is true that the papal claims are 
to a great extent of slow development. But development 


is a fact of which we have much experience in other fields 
of God's world. Analogy shows that higher forms grow 
out of lower, and what remains of lower stages of existence 
remain in higher stages. These analogies explain the de- 
fects — as they seem from the outside — of the Papacy." 

The Bishop proceeds to argue : 

I see no personal recognition of the personality of 
Christ in your life. " Atonement," for instance, you take 
on authority : — that is no use : you haven't realised St. 
Paul's " accepted in the Beloved," " holding the Head," &c. 

He discusses, too, the nature of Hell ; the authority, 
again, of the Papacy, in which he sees the submission of the 
clergy to be due to " seminary atmosphere," while the 
multiplicity of English sects is but a mark of exuberance 
of life. " Analogy," he concludes, " will not hold in the 
case of development." 

Hugh answers with what the Bishop feels to be "tender 
patience " : he is much touched, but rapidly hastens to- 
wards rebuke. 

Benson contemplates, he cries out, an act of "moral 
and spiritual suicide," and will inflict a deep wound on 
the Anglican Church. " Your father's and your mother's 
son should not do this. Where should respect for Church 
authority come to you except in connection with their 
teaching and example ? " 

He is glad, indeed, to hear that Hugh has personal 
devotion to Christ. Still, Papalism is " Christianity with- 
out Christ." " It seems to me simply miserable," he cries, 
"that a young Englishman, called to win souls to the truth, 
should abdicate responsibility for his own soul in order to 
escape the trial which exercise of faith involves." The 
Papacy is a " strange creation in which policy, arrogance, 
superstition, falsehood, force, fraud, secular ambition, and 


love of money have worked together since about a.d. 200, 
the time of Pope Victor, to enthrall mankind ; " and he 
alludes to the "falsehoods" of "respectable men" like 
Innocent I, and theologians like Leo I. He enlightens 
him on the trading propensities of French religious ; the 
Concordat was " an instrument by which (originally) King 
and Pope divided the rights of the Church between them, 
and prevented the Church of France, from the reign of 
Francois I onwards, from becoming the real power in 
the State and exercising its proper influence as a body 
corporate." " Heaven forbid that anyone of your name 
and family should help to re-establish a similar alien 
domination in England." ..." Rome is far more than 
you think a money-making institution. The Papacy exists 
to supply salaries to the Cardinals, and places to an army 
of hangers-on." If the Concordat were terminated, Papal 
coffers would empty : it must therefore be preserved at 
all costs. ... 

My dear boy, what you need is to cease dreaming, and 
to become a humble servant of the poor in some well- 
[managed parish i] — not too hopelessly undermanned — 
where your spirit would find rest in really growing like 
Christ in daily tasks. 

Once more he wrote, hoping that Hugh would return 
to the Church of England safe and sound ; else, he would 
lose his Christian faith altogether, or, possibly, become a 
"hardened" Romanist. Hugh destroyed this last letter, 
though the rest survive. In them we see the revelation 
of a tender and yearning mind wasting its passionate 
affections over an illusion ; living in a present and fore- 
casting a future, with regard to the Roman Catholic life, 
after a fashion conceivable by a Catholic only with the 

* I think this is right. The Bishop was writing in the train. 


most violent imaginative effort. At least it will serve the 
Catholic for a lesson of the all but infinite difficulty in- 
volved in his appreciating the Protestant mind, when he 
sees how a man of immense learning, profound piety, 
utter sincerity and deep personal affection, can so mis- 
conceive the Catholic mentality. 

I cannot refrain from quoting these lines of a letter 
from Mrs. Benson to Hugh, dated September 17th : 

"These days [the Bishop of Salisbury had written to 
Mrs. Benson] have been days of acute misery to me." 
He is really suffering very much, and his love of your 
father and the Church of England is very strong, and 
works in him till he can scarcely bear it. . . . [He had not 
expected the change was so imminent.] He has got a big 
old heart at bottom. 

Hugh really had no difficulty in appreciating what his 
insight, no less than his mother's, at once laid hold of. 
There was never, in him, the least spark of vindictiveness. 

The prayers which Hugh had asked " for one tempted 
to secede" had been offered, however, not in vain. On 
September 7th he left Tremans, in lay clothes once again, 
for the Dominican Priory at Woodchester, where Father 
Reginald Buckler, O.P., was awaiting him. Every stage 
in this last journey his mother watched in tireless 
thought. Each day, almost, a letter follows him. 

On September 8th she was writing : 

September 8. 

Since I saw the diminishing snake curve under the 
bridge, in everything but in physical sight you have been, 
so to say, nearer than ever; at 6, I pictured the "wait for 
'bus'" — about 6.30 your arrival — the evening offices 
(blessed) — at 11, when I was going to bed, I hoped for you 
asleep, in order to be ready for very early morning — and 
now (11.30 A.M.) I think of you either admiring the superb 
view, or talking as S. Francis over the door to S, Dominic 


— and the blessing of God over all. ... I am hungering 
for to-morrow to hear from you "the programme" as 
you said, because I want to tell the household about it 
before the rumours from outside reach them, and because 
I want — O HOW MUCH — to have a touch from you. Beth's 
dearest love. 

His elder brother, too, wished him a generous God- 
speed : 

I say with all my heart that, knowing what you feel, 
I couldn't wish you to act otherwise, and I will add God 
bless and prosper you ! 

With the pleasantest Cotswold scenery Hugh Benson 
found himself enraptured. 

"This," he writes to India on September loth, "is the 
most astonishing country — among the Cotswolds. It is 
a sort of Scotland — high hills — running streams — and 
really steep hills and valleys. I want to live here per- 

Elsewhere he says he found it "like some parts of 
Italy" ; and to Miss Kyle he gaily says, "This is a beauti- 
ful house in a beautiful country, and contains some beauti- 
ful people." 1 

This transfiguration affected only what he reached 
with that part of his soul which he named external. 
Within, he sat utterly still, numbed, contemplating this 
romantic outside world, and himself enjoying it as in a 
picture. The Stroud omnibus carried him along with 
it, seemingly motionless, like a spectator faced by the 
moving scenery in Parsifal. He listened to a rosy-faced 
old man talking ; he watched some children who were 
troublesome. . . . 

1 "All that country," he wrote {Spiritual Letters, p. i8) "is bound up with 
my own happiness in my mind ; the great hills and valleys, and the miles of 
tableland at the top— like the top of prayer : monotonous, with sensational 
approaches, but high up." 


Down the path from the Priory a lay-brother came to 
meet the omnibus, and with him Hugh climbed to the 
gates of the church where, almost as in allegory. Father 
Reginald Buckler was waiting for him. It is hard to 
write as one would about this priest, who unlocked the 
greater gates for Hugh Benson, and left with him a memory 
of affection undoubtedly unique in his kind. Perhaps you 
will remember a novel by one whom Benson loved. The 
Cardinal's Snuff-box, and something of what Peter felt to 
proceed from the old churchman's mere presence in the 
house. " Nor knowest thou," he quoted, " what argument 
thy life to thy neighbour's creed hath lent." Father 
Buckler was not the " original " of that Cardinal ; but 
something of the courtesy, tact, and gentle worldly wisdom 
coupled with true interior spirituality of Udeschini was in 
the Dominican. And I would dare to say that it may well 
be that in him, and in him alone since his days at Kemsing, 
he found something of an atmosphere which had a unique 
charm for him. There is a delicate and vanishing aroma 
which haunts old-fashioned drawing-rooms, and there is 
a grave sweetness of thought and quaint stateliness of 
language belonging to an age dubbed Victorian mostly in 
derision. Few of its gracious ladies and courteous master- 
ful old men are now with us, but it is a privilege at least to 
recollect what we can never reproduce. Not that I assert 
for a moment that these qualities were, so to say, textually 
reproduced in Father Buckler's welcome ; but they had 
their spiritual and, yes, even their exterior analogies, and a 
perfectly distinct atmosphere and colour belongs to all 
this episode. Not that Hugh sentimentalised over it more 
than over any other part of his life. The Prior, he finds, 
is "quite fascinating, with an intense sense of humour, 
which greatly relieves the situation." Father Buckler, 


owing possibly to his radical simplicity, is "just the least 
apt to classify too quickly, and to take silence for con- 
sent.* I wasted a day or two through not realising that." 
To another, he writes too of a priest " like a white-haired 
mouse dressed in flannel — very little and pious and old." 
To him he relates how Father Buckler is organist ; he 
consults Hugh's tastes ; does he like the tunes ? shall he 
play a little Bach or Handel to-night, for a change ? And 
would he like to see his sketches ? Besides this, the in- 
structor took his disciple for long walks through the 
romantic countryside, and was sincerely distressed that 
he could not induce him to provide him with some diffi- 
culty to explain. ... He gave him the Catechism ; he 
begged for questions ; he tried to raise the ghost of In- 
dulgences — surely they must scare him ? Not in the least : 
Hugh wasn't clear he understood the last word about 
them, but he believed them quite without anxiety. . . . 
However, the eager Dominican was given his chance, and 
expounded Indulgences at satisfactory full length. . . . 

To him Hugh showed the typed copy of A City set 
on a Hill, and the priest told him there was nothing left 
but for him to kiss St. Peter's Chair.^ 

What Hugh needed most of all was just that amount 
of prayer which should keep his tired soul alive without 
demanding from it any exercise. He was to rest : even 
the supreme operation Father Buckler was resolved upon 
performing must be performed without added shock. 
Hugh was his own anaesthetic : he was unconscious 
even of joy. He heard Mass ; was at the day offices now 

^ Many mistakes would have been saved had Hugh Benson's interviewers 
been more careful to remember that the extreme politeness which prompted his 
silences did not necessarily in the least indicate assent. 

* This booklet, published by the C.T.S., contains his favourite arguments for 
Catholicism and which need no re-statement. 


and then, and always at Compline, of which the Dominican 
Salve Regina was the only luminous place in a spiritually 
grey day. 

Immediately upon his arrival he wrote to his mother 
and explained that he would not be baptized, even con- 
ditionally, owing to the absolute certainty that his 
Anglican baptism had been valid in form and intention, 
which, given the Archbishop's knowledge of liturgy and 
his constant practice, could scarcely have been otherwise.^ 
Hugh also mentions the possibility of his receiving 
tonsure and possibly " minor orders " directly after his 
reception. He would then be able to wear his " customary 
clerical clothes," though in the case of his singularly 
straightforward mind I think the " humiliation " which 
strikes so many convert clergymen with downright panic 
— of reverting to lay costume — would have seemed 
singularly unimpressive. 

On September loth Mrs. Benson answered : 

Tremans, September 10. 

My Dearest, — Your letter this morning is a wonderful 
comfort, and you can understand how hungry and thirsty 
we are for every smallest detail. I read every word to 
Beth immediately after prayers, and though her face 
broke up now and then, she beamed at the end, and is 
now deep in the mysteries of the difference between 
celluloid collars and linen ones — and I can't unravel that 
either. ... I am deeply thankful as to your not being 
re-baptized. ... It all sounds very straight and simple — 
which is just what one wants — and it is so good that 

^ The Catholic practice of conditional baptism of converts is a very frequent 
cause of unnecessary disturbance to non-Catholic onlookers. When the convert 
has certainly been baptized, or certainly not, the Church uses no further baptismal 
ceremony, or baptizes outright. When the Anglican baptism has been doubtfully 
administered — and even now, only experience can show how often this is so — 
the Church baptizes sub conditione. There never is, nor in the nature of things 
can be, r^-baptism. Conditional baptism means, If you have never been baptized, 
this is baptism. If you have, it is nothing at all. 


there is no pressing or urging — only putting things 
before you to see exactly what it means and whether 
you can accept all. You will let me know AT ONCE, 
I know, when you are actually received, or if you CAN, 
before, so that my heart — our hearts — may be specially 
with you — I shall just wait from day to day. I intend 
to tell the household as soon as I hear from you for 
certain — as I should like them to know from within 
first. Without, [people] will not be pre-eminently sym- 
pathetic. And I am glad about the '' minor orders " ; 
it will be a comfort to you to show in your dress exactly 
what you are, and not to seem like a layman — it will be 
far wisest all round. 

Dearest, your words surround my heart with infinite 
warmth — it has been just what I so earnestly desired — 
how, loving you as I do, could I do anything else ? — indeed, 
as you know, we all three were entirely of one mind, and 
if you found it, as you did, God bless you, the atmosphere 
that helped your soul, why, what blessing and thankfulness 
from all our hearts to God ! You have been so preciously 
sweet in these months and so eager to do all I asked. 

Next day she wrote again : 

September ii. 

... I am not sorry there are no delays — I am so 
glad there is no re-baptism — and I think the tonsure and 
the minor orders would be a comfort in a way ... do 
come back soon. 

I told the household to-day, that they might know 
the exact time. 

And at 5 o'clock to-day how specially we shall be 
with you, my Dearest. 

Only keep us posted in every possible detail all so dear 
to our hearts. And God's blessing, wide, deep and high 
be on you, and God's love full, rich and large, compass 
you round. 

But on the evening of that day, at 6.30 in the evening, 
Father Buckler heard Hugh's confession in the Wood- 
chester Chapter-house, and gave him the kiss of peace, 
saying, " I shall have to call you in future ' My dear 
Hugh.' " Hugh loved this fatherliness, and alludes to it 


in letters, always with the corollary, "He is a dear old 
man ! " 

To his mother Hugh wrote briefly that "it had 
happened." She answered at once : 

My dearest Son, — I have your note to say "it has 
happened," and it was sweet to me to think your first 
action on coming was to write this, and O how I wish 
you could transport your dear self here — we know you 
are ours still, and nothing will ever shake that fundamental 
blessed reality of love. For the rest, you are now where 
your heart feels you can be truly loyal, where it finds 
its home, where you deeply feel God has led you. We 
trust you to Him in utter love and boundless hope. . . . 
Only let us in, always, wherever you rightly can — be as you 
have always been. . . . Letters are showering in . . . 
how superficial some are, and how Extraordinarily people 
are ready to think you have overlooked some momentous 
fact lying close at hand, and that they will kindly draw 
attention to it. 

On the same day Miss Lucy Tait, the devoted friend 
of Hugh's family, also wrote to him : 

September 12, 1903. 

It has been such a comfort that all these last weeks 
we have been all so knit up together. It seems as if the 
inner bond had got so much closer as the outer one has — 
what shall I say — changed ? 

On the day after his reconciliation he received Holy 
Communion from the hands of the Prior. Father 
McNabb has written to me that : 

During these days at Woodchester no great fuss was 
made about him. He was left a good deal to himself. 
He was extraordinarily untiring with his pen. Every 
spare moment was given to writing. I believe he was 
then seeing through the press By What Authority. He 
was also putting together A City set on a Hill. 

His sense of humour was extremely alert. Good 
stories found him a good listener, and were usually re- 


peated " in kind." The stammer which was quite notice- 
able in ordinary talk never dulled the point of his stories. 

There was a childlike obedience about him which struck 
me as being not a natural gift, but a hard-won acquisi- 
tion. It was a noble second-childhood, which spoke of 
victory won. 

The weariness which he speaks of in his own account 
of conversion was only just noticeable, I remember taking 
it to be the aftermath of some years at one of our great 
Universities. It was but a full-grown Englishman's por- 
tion of that self-control which has become a proverb 
beyond these islands. [..••] 

Within his soul lurked the elements of a tragedy. If 
in the end he died the death, as he had lived the life, 
of an apostle, it was no doubt due to the years of self- 
control which not everyone recognised in the untiring 
writer and preacher. Many of the souls to whom his 
character appealed by its energy and vivid colouring did 
not perhaps realise that elsewhere, in overlooked regions 
of his being, lay his strength. Indeed some of those 
points of character that made most friends were perhaps 
counted by his Judge amongst the dangers of his soul. 
In silentio et in spe. Certain habits of thought and 
action, of humility in mind and deed, outbalanced the 
gifts that some men praised most. 

On the Monday he left Woodchester for Talacre, after 
a four days' stay only. His experiences read as if it had 
been four weeks. " You will be sorry to leave that peace- 
ful place and the dear little man," his mother wrote. 
" But life goes on and work, and these dear havens, like 
our three months together, are like the Arbour for Pilgrims, 
I suppose, for refreshment, and not for remaining." At 
Talacre, Father Richards, acting there as chaplain to Sir 
Piers and Lady Mostyn, was awaiting him. Dreams 
added glamour to his going ; he " recognised " his new 
surroundings, and felt, half-pathetically, half-whimsically, 
that indeed he was coming home. 

He remained quietly at Talacre for some time, and 


visited the Jesuit house of theology at St. Beuno's, the 
Capuchin novitiate at Pantasaph, and St. Winifred's Well 
at Holywell hard by.^ Above all, he w^as speculating on 
and arranging for his future career. At first it is the 
Dominican idea which recurs oftenest in his letters. It 
is an open secret that he at first wished to enter that Order, 
and I am allowed to say that he actually offered himself 
for acceptance as a novice. The Dominican fathers, 
however, with genuine disinterestedness, would not permit 
any such rapid step, though that he was destined for the 
priesthood was clear. 

" I have nothing more," he wrote on September 23, 
1903, to Mr. A. C. Benson from Talacre, "than the deepest 
possible conviction — no emotionalism or sense of relief, 
or anything of that kind. All the first week I was with 
the Dominicans — who, I imagine, will be my final destina- 
tion after two or three years. . . . 

" I imagine I shall begin to read theology again, in 
view of future ordination." This would take him either 
to Rome in November, or to Prior Park, near Bath, where 
he could teach as well as read. 

Mamma and I are meeting in London next week. She 
really has been good to me beyond all words. Her 
patience and kindness have been unimaginable. 

Well — this is a dreary and egotistical letter. But you 
asked me to write about myself. 

Well — I must thank you again for your extreme kind- 
ness — I really am grateful, though I am always dumb 
about such things when I meet people. 

^ At Holywell he had a disconcerting experience. The place was crowded 
with pilgrims when he, in his grey suit and bowler hat, arrived escorted by 
Father Richards. The priest in charge of the well, knowing Father Richards 
and his interest in converts, shouted a welcome to him (for he could not reach 
him), and asked if he had seen the conversion of Benson, announced that day. 
Hugh remained serene, and afterwards went to tea at the presbytery. 


Father Reginald Buckler followed up his kind offices 
with wise and leisurely advice, supremely in keeping with 
Hugh's own tendency of life : 

Sept. 21. 

Do not, my dear fellow, have any misgivings as to 
your vocation to the priesthood — I firmly believe in it. 
Your love for the priestly office, and for Divine things, 
and your aptitude for the work all point to it. 

Benson had some ;^5o a year, and could therefore go 
to Rome in sufficient independence ; and in view of his 
possible departure thither. Father Buckler introduced him 
to Father Paul MacKay, O.P., who had long been resident 
there. The important point was to get ordained before 
entering an order. 

" I am fond of the sentence," Father Buckler wrote on 
October 22, when his departure seemed still unsettled, 
" * Let us leave room for Providence to work.' If your 
going to Rome be delayed, I take it that there are souls in 
England waiting for your help to their conversion, and 
that if you had been away, you would have missed them. 
... In any case, cultivate the ' courageous soul,' and 
take the little checks as trials of the spirit, and ride straight 
over them — transcend them, to use a nice old patristic 
word. How soon a few years go by ! " 

He repeated much the same advice after Hugh had 
left England : 

Nov. 16, 1903. 

No doubt I often said that we must 'Meave room for 
Providence to work." You will feel, I am sure, that your 
present position and work at Cambridge is all part of the 
spiritual scheme. " Deus est agens principale " is another 
splendid principle. Let God work and arrange for me. 
The Divine Element is stronger than the human, in the 
Church, although the human is, and has been, and always 
must be, so strong. 

" Each in his hidden sphere of bliss or woe 
Our hermit spirits dwell." 

Those two verses (that contain these lines) are to me 
quite perfect, and none that Keble ever wrote seem to 


compare with them. They are the first two for the 
twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity.* 

On September 17 Mrs. Benson wrote : 

. . . Your letter just come from Talacre — and so 
greedily read. You are so good, dearest, and you cer- 
tainly are the same R. H. B. — only I want to see you dread- 
fully. O Hugh ! What a strange new circle you are 
entering on ! You must give them all to me. That is 
just my heart's desire — the old circle which we go on in, 
you know well — but Pantasaph and St. Beuno's, and St. 
Winifred's Well, and Talacre and Erdington Abbey and 
the Mostyns — these, and all they mean, you must make 
me understand and know. 

A gracious and statesmanlike letter reached him from 
the Archbishop. After expressing his natural regret at 
the step taken by Hugh, he added affectionately : 

Sept. 16, 1903. 

... I retain, however, the opinion I expressed to 
you, that it would have been wrong on your part to have 
allowed reverence for [your father's] memory to pull you 
into what would have been a dishonest act or series of 
acts on your part, your convictions being what they now 

^ It is pleasant to know that the relations between the spiritual father and 
the son remained intact. Father Benson revisited Woodchester and his old 
friend almost at once after his return from Rome ; on which occasion he 
obstinately refused to preach to those who had been his teachers. He took a 
short holiday once with Father Buckler, and taking him to see over Lambeth, 
found the Archbishop absent, but Mrs. Benson unexpectedly there. Father 
Buckler never forgot, and was profoundly touched by the kindness of Hugh's 
mother, who, as she took his hands into hers, looked into the eyes of the priest 
who had put her son "where he longed to be," and said, "I never forget 
September nth." Hugh used to send him the handbills of his sermons, and 
dedicated the Confessions to him. Father Buckler sent him in return his 
Spiritual Journal, for refreshment in wearied moments. Benson never forgot, 
and wrote not unfrequently to, this untiring labourer in Christ's vineyard, even 
in British Grenada, whither obedience was to send him. The simple, gentle 
priest, high-bred none the less, and quoting Horace, full of a brisk, pious humour 
too, in the treatment of clinging converts, was a genuine loss to Hugh. The 
last piece of his advice I find is that he should read Newman's Loss and Gain, 
especially the earlier pages, for an intimate knowledge of the hearts of boys, 
and of young men, 


are. I am quite sure that when the choice lies between 
a non-natural use of words upon which so much depends 
and a change of faith, it is an honest man's duty to make 
the change rather than to practise what to me at least 
seems to be a course of deliberate evasion or deceit. 

Very little but kind wishes followed him even from 
those who felt his loss most keenly. Dr. Eden, the Bishop 
of Wakefield, wrote most sorrowfully, but with tenderest 
affection, assuring him of its continuance and begging 
that no bitterness might henceforward alter Hugh's kindli- 
ness of heart towards the Church he had left. 

Father Frere, writing from the troubled atmosphere of 
St. Michael's, Shoreditch, said : 

Sept. 13, 1903. 

Writing here, I am more grateful than ever for the 
manner of it and for all your great consideration and 
goodness in doing what was so difficult to all concerned ; 
the contrast here could hardly have been more marked,^ 
and it makes me all the more feel what we all have been 
spared of bitterness and misunderstanding. I hope the 
Dominicans will be your home, if it isn't folly of me to 
say so. It was such a relief to see your address and be 
able to think of you in hands that one can far better trust 
than some others. . . . Tell us sometimes how things go 
on, for there will be many who will want to know, and for 
whom many old ties of love and common work and wor- 
ship will never be broken. 

On his side Father Bickersteth, with more than one 
pointe de malice^ broke the news " gently " to forty ladies to 
whom he was giving a retreat. They were mildly shocked, 
but felt sure that to follow conscience was the best. For 
The Light Invisible, destined to be read at table, he rather 
slyly substituted Paget's Spirit of Discipline. " Is it un- 
fair," he asks, "to tell people as I do that you were 
trained by Dr. Vaughan, and that you came to Mirfield 

^ The allusion here visible reflects the contemporary misunderstanding of 
the recent conversions so sensationally accomplished at St. Michael's, 


with certain tendencies which we were able to restrain 

but not eradicate ? . . . I hope you are not wearing a 

red tie." 

The Bishop of Worcester wrote : 

Bishop's House, Worcester, 
Sept. 21, 1903. 

My dear Hugh, — God bless you. May it all turn out 
for the best for all of us. — Yours affectionately, 


I cannot put " Esq.," and you wouldn't wish for " Rev." 
Therefore nothing. 

Shortly before this he had heard from Father Tyrrell. 
He writes that he is glad, the more sincerely "as I 
know you are explicitly aware of what seems to me the 
true state of the question in regard to the nature of Church 
authority. . . . Either you have seen your way to accept 
the extreme view of the matter, which may be the right 
view after all . . . or else Fr. Buckler does not share 
with me in a scruple which I confess is normally regarded 
as somewhat over-refined and pedantic.*' He went on 
to recall that sacrifice is sweet at first ; reaction comes, 
and need of shut eyes and full trust in " Him who has 
Himself deceived us if we are deceived, and who must 
see us through the pass to which He has brought us." . . . 
He prayed that no tinge of convert fanaticism might mar 
Hugh's attitude to those he had left ; he must never be 
impatient. Let patronising airs be left as a monopoly to 
non-Catholics ; for Catholics, gentleness of judgment, sym- 
pathy with mental difficulties, tolerance of intolerance. 

Father E. I. Purbrick wrote to Hugh from Clongowes 
Wood College, Sallins, Co. Kildare, on September i6th : 

Sept. 16, 1903. 

This morning I read in the paper of your reception 
into the Church at Woodchester, and cannot refrain from 


congratulating from my heart a son of my dearest old 
friend, your father. As boys we advanced along the same 
path towards the Church, and his conversion was my daily 
prayer until his death. I . . . pray earnestly for the 
repose of his soul. 

Benson answered, and Father Purbrick wrote again, 
in words which will be valued by many, on September 19 : 

. . . You can have no idea how the news rejoiced my 
heart. Your dear father was my oldest and most valued 
friend, and my greatest sorrow since I became a Catholic 
was, as I ever told him, that he and Lightfoot had not 
received the same inestimable grace. So I rejoice more 
than I can express that one of his sons is now a fellow- 
Catholic. . . . You may depend on my daily memento 
henceforth in the Holy Sacrifice. 

I have worked through a great pile of letters from 
Anglicans, and, to my astonishment, they are nearly all 
congratulatory. Some deplore the departure, but by no 
means for dogmatic so much as for reasons connected rather 
with ecclesiastical politics. Moreover, they are either, in 
the mass, from clerics, or from quite poor people. 

From one correspondent he received the following : 

Sept. 19, 1903. 

With what joy I learn that to you has been vouchsafed 
the call to "go up higher" ! Whenever this is granted to 
any of my friends I always say a " Gloria in Excelsis," like 
Dante's holy souls in Purgatory at a brother's release. To 
me it has not come yet — or rather God's hand seems still 
to bar the path I so long to tread. Pray for me that before 
I die I too may have grace to enter the City of Gladness. 

To balance this, he heard from others : how, " if I had 
not been so great a coward, I should long ago have left the 
Church of England . . . but outwards, away from all faith." 

And constantly the blame for his departure is laid at 
the door of the Anglican authorities. Moreover, a rather 


displeasing tone, as of men pitying " the poor old Church 
of England," jars not infrequently upon a reader who is 
fain to see interior affection and respect accompany ex- 
ternal loyalty. One clergyman insists that the fault in the 
Church of England lies with the clergy. People are thirst- 
ing for full Catholic doctrine ; parsons fear to give it out, 
and use " veiled words " ; just enough to satisfy their 

Rumour says that you leave the English Church not 
because you doubt her orders, but because she is so 
timorous, and so often gives way before Protestant out- 

So, too, the clergyman of a church where Robert Hugh 
Benson had preached a Mission and a Revival in 1902, 
wrote on September 18, 1903 : 

I fear there is sad consternation at W , and the poor 

Catholics who have been drawn on will have a rough time 
of it from their Protestant neighbours and friends. 

I grant you things have been very, very trying lately, 
and episcopal policy has been almost unbearable. But 
it is no new thing to us older ones, who have had to endure 
frowns and scoldings continuously ; and what we have 
known has been nothing compared with what the Trac- 
tarians suffered.^ 

"Anyhow," the conclusion often is, "it's all very 
mysterious ; so much so, that I can safely stay where 
I am." 

It is sad when men resign themselves to membership 
of a Church simply because the pros and cons of organised 
systems of Christianity are so bewildering that they can 
plead just helplessness to judge as the final motive for loyalty. 

^ A fascinating theme of discussion is suggested here. The atmosphere in 
which modern conversions take place is so utterly different from that of the 
bygone world of Newman. 


A special interest attaches to a letter from the present 
Abbot of Caldey ; from it I quote a few sentences : 

It seems so hard to go on with the men to whom one 
looks to do great things in the cause of Corporate Reunion 
dropping off one by one into little reunions of their own. 
. . . What a joy it must be, to be in Rome as a Roman, 
not as a mere spectator ! . . . Do you remember those 
happy days at Mailing when you were "coming on"? 
What an anti-Roman you were then ! 

It was with this Abbot of Caldey, who at last has 
followed a like call, that Hugh took refuge to " make his 
soul " for the last time, in retreat, not a month before his 

From his own letters I will quote two extracts. To 
Mr. Spencer Jones he wrote thanking him cordially for 
his congratulations, and his sympathetic warning in view 
of the singular light-heartedness with which Catholics too 
often seem to accept their privileges : 

One is still somewhat bewildered in these new sur- 
roundings, but I think I know what you mean about the 
" apparent flippancy " ; but, as you say, it is a mark of 
fearlessness and security in the possession of them. 

It also strikes me how very little people on this side 
really know of Anglican methods of thought. They see 
the inconsistencies and weakness of the other side, and so 
on, but do not seem to realise their real points of view at 
all. I have been quite astonished in reading some of the 
controversial books and pamphlets to see how entirely 
they sometimes miss the target — and do not really even 
aim at the Catholic party in the Church of England, much 
less hit them. It does certainly seem that misunderstand- 
ing and contempt are responsible for a great deal of need- 
less division. 

Next to the saving of his own soul, it does really seem 
as if the very first duty of an Anglican who has made his 
submission is to do his best to make people on this side 
understand a little better the point of view of people on 


that. Really, nothing can be gained from drawing carica- 
tures of one's opponents. 

It is extremely rash of me to talk like this, of course ; 
but both from your book and your letters I know that you 
will understand what I mean, and that I can say all this 
without the danger of your thinking that my submission 
has not been whole-hearted and unreserved. For, even 
for controversial purposes, it is better for one to know 
one's " enemy's " position accurately rather than inaccu- 
rately. Your book, I am sure, is of the greatest value, just 
for the reason that it insists so powerfully on the need of 
looking at things from other people's point of view, if one 
is to be of any service to the other people. 

To India he had written : 

Do write again soon ; I can't tell you how much I love 
to hear. And a letter like the last above all. I know you 
won't let any " change of religion " mean a change of 
anything else. It seems to me shocking that it should do 

Lord Halifax wrote almost in the same words : 

Sept. 13, 1903. 

My dear Hugh, — It does indeed make no difference as 
far as I am concerned. Why should it ? There is only 
one Church, and, as / believe, you have merely changed 
your opinion as to certain matters on a family quarrel upon 
which, from any point of view, there is much to be said on 
both sides, and in regard to which neither side is assuredly 
blameless. How the matter may present itself to anyone 
else — or even to you, cannot affect my judgment of the 
situation, and I do beg you to believe, my very dear friend, 
that if you are not controversial and unjust — and I cannot 
conceive of you as either — your hopes and plans, your 
objects and interests, will be just as much a matter of 
concern to me as ever they were. God may have a special 
work for you, and I pray Him to bless you and it with all 
my heart. 

So kind were the letters he received that he would often 
use the words, " It is a real joy to be written to like that." 


For completeness' sake, let me give these extracts from 
his correspondence with Miss Kyle. 
On September 12 he wrote : 

I am not writing about feelings, and so on ; because, 
after all, they can never be trusted ; and there is no need 
to write about convictions, even if you cared to hear of 

And you need not be afraid that I shall bother you 
with controversy, because personally I believe that that is 
the longest road to truth, if, indeed, it ever gets there at all. 

And again on September 15 fromTalacre: 

I told my mother I was troubled in mind more than a 
year ago. Of course it was something of a shock to her, 
but comparatively slight. Then, as the months went by, I 
kept her fully informed, so far as was possible, as to my 
state of mind, and ultimately, when my decision was taken, 
it was very little shock to her, as the idea had become 
familiar to her, I also gave her a promise, or rather an 
understanding, which I distinguished from a promise, that 
I would not be received without letting her know. The 
result has been that neither she nor I are conscious of an 
estrangement [ . . . ] It is quite possible, I should think, 
too, always to let them [one's parents] know, as it were, by 
the way ; and not make an announcement of it. People 
are generally shocked if we let them see we expect it, and 
not otherwise. 

You ask me about my own sensations now. What I 
know is this — that I could have done nothing else ; that 
everything pointed steadily to the event ; that the Church 
of England " was a schoolmaster "... and, therefore, that 
I have a great gratitude and tenderness still, and, please 
God, always shall have, for her. But that now I have 
arrived. Right down below there is all this fundamental 
knowledge and certitude that the See of Peter is the one 
and only centre of unity. But as for actual feelings, I 
may frankly say that I have none at all yet, of any sort- 
scarcely even of " dryness." For the last three months my 
soul seems to have been completely numbed — no distress 
and no joy — at least in the spiritual realm — though plenty 
of /%/j-/(:«/ depression and exaltation. Is this very vague ? 
I don't know how else to express it. But I am completely 


and wholly certain that this step is not the result of 
emotions in any sense, but of the coldest sort of conviction. 
And perhaps God has sent me this odd state, in order that 
I may act from convictions only, and know it. 

And on September 29 : 

For myself I have never exactly " seen " it ; but I 
have "felt" it as in the dark, and I acted in the dark, 
knowing, but not perceiving. Now, thank God, after 
swaying about out of one's depth, one begins to feel the 
Immovable Rock. Let me tell you that you have (i) Poor 
Clares, (2) Capuchins, (3) a French convent at Tyburn, all 
praying for you, so you need fear nothing. However 
dark and cold you feel, do remember that the Poor Clares 
alone would be enough to save anyone. 

In the negotiations of this period relating to his im- 
mediate destination, the name of the late Father Maturin 
constantly recurs. Father Maturin's life has been sacrificed 
in atrocious circumstances ; in its long record of kind- 
nesses, which, we rejoice to know, the wise and affec- 
tionate hand of Mr. Wilfrid Ward will shortly render per- 
manent, few episodes stand out more worthily than the 
persistent interest he displayed at this time towards this 
neophyte. Long before, when Benson wrote to him from 
Damascus, where the news of Maturin's own conversion 
had just reached him, Maturin had kept silence. Now, 
his was among the first of the congratulatory telegrams 
which came to Hugh. 

Before October was over, he had met him. 

" Yes, indeed," he writes on the 26th to Miss Hilda 
Buckenham, "Father Maturin is just the same, and his 
sermons as astonishing as ever. There is really nobody 
like him for prodigality of thought and words. I want to 
hold out my hand and stop him in the middle, until some- 
thing has had time to penetrate my thick brain — something 
that I know is good, but cannot appreciate. And he is so 
genial and kindly too." 


And rather later on : 

I wish you could have heard Fr. Maturin's address. It 
was amazing. He went on like a torrent for one and a 
quarter hours, and it was all packed with intricate argument 
and answer and counter-answer. I can't conceive the 
process of mind by which he does it. 

Father Maturin was eager that Hugh should enter the 
Sulpician seminary in Rome. But it was full, and this 
rebuff was the first which Benson's sensitive eagerness to 
begin experienced. However, negotiations with the Eng- 
lish Church of San Silvestro followed almost at once. The 
visit to Erdington Abbey had been successfully accom- 
plished, and of it Dom Bede Camm has written to me : 

We were asked to invite him to Erdington, as it was 
thought some stay in a Catholic monastery would be good, 
and he came on to us from Woodchester. I can hardly 
say how much I was delighted with him. His enthusiasm 
as a Catholic and his humility as a raw convert were 
equally touching. He then began to consult me on the 
book he was writing on the Elizabethan persecution. I 
took him to Oscott, and he was greatly delighted with the 
treasures preserved there — the old vestments, the chalices, 
missal, altar-stones, &c., of penal days. He poured out 
the details of the book, as it was shaping itself, and eagerly 
seized on any points that would be of use to him. In the 
end it was settled that I should read and correct the proof- 
sheets and do my best to help him to secure historical 
accuracy. But before that I used to get (after he left us) 
sheets of questions, full of historical puzzles, often beyond 
my wit to answer. 

But since By What Authority was not published till 
later, I will reserve what else Dom Bede can tell about its 
genesis till I speak more fully of it. 

After Erdington he came back, by way of London, to 


He writes to Mr. A. C. Benson on October 5, 1903 : 

Barton St. 

Yesterday I went about a little, and made acquaintance 

with churches. It was all very queer, but I suppose one 

will feel comfortable soon. The combination of extreme 

homeliness and magnificence is very odd, but very striking. 

Not long afterwards the date for his departure for 
Rome was fixed, November 2nd. " I cannot bear the 
thought of it," he writes to his eldest brother. 


NOVEMBER 1903— JULY 1908 

Statuit super petram pedes meos : et direxit gressus meos. 
Et immisit in os meum canticum novum : carmen Deo nostro. 

Psalm xxxix. 3, 4. 



November 1903-JuNE 1904 

Fecisti patriam diuersis gentibus unam : 

Profuit inuitis, te dominante, capi. 
Dumque offers uictis proprii consortia iuris, 

Urbem fecisti quod prius orbis erat. 

RuTiLius Namatianus. 


On the chilly morning of All Souls' Day, 1903, Hugh's 
mother once more stood at his side to hearten his de- 
parture. Upon the London platform an incident took 
place for which our memory will be always grateful. 
Immediately on her return Mrs. Benson wrote : 

. . . When the last speck of your disgusting train had 
gone, L. and I went out of the station, and a firm hand 
grasped my arm. I looked round, and there was the 
Bishop of St. Andrews ! He had dashed off, on receiving 
a letter from me telling him you were going this morning, 
hoping to see you off, but just too late. He was delightful^ 
reminding me that if your father, while he was on earth, 
would have wished you at all costs to follow your con- 
science, how much more in Paradise, and he said many 

delightful things of you too. They aren't all S 's ! . . . 

Your room here looks fiendish without you. We went 
into your Cathedral as we came back, and prayed for your 
safe journey and happy arrival. 

Hugh wired his successful crossing, and his mother 
wrote again on the 4th : 

Beth has been going about like a bird with a broken 

wing, but the telegram has heartened her up, and she 



sends her dear love. It is all so very exceedingly flat 
to us all now you are gone, and we must not be flat. 
Even the household gives it as its opinion that " the house 
isn't itself without one of Our Gentlemen." . . . O my 
son, I want to feel 

" And each one that is gone 
Has left my heart less lonely " ^ 

about you too. ... I have had a real prize of a letter 
from A. B. about you, which beats X out and out. She 
apparently hopes you are a little out of your mind. Such 
a simple way of accounting for it ! 

On the same day Hugh wrote, illustrating his letter 
here and there : 

San Silvestro in Capite, 
Nov. 4. 

Here I am at last. Everything on the journey went 
off all right ; but it is a long business, and I have been 
tearing about all day ever since I arrived this morning. 

Nothing at all exciting happened on the way. The 
Channel was like a M. P. ; ^ nobody ill at all anywhere ; 
the chicken at Calais as usual ; dinner at Paris as usual. 

My cabman beat his horse, and I screamed at him^ 
"Assez de fouet " so fiercely that we crawled all the rest 
of the way. Everybody in Paris was wearing a kind of 
clerical hat, so they all looked like Low Church clergy- 
men [sketch]. . . . Reached Rome half an hour late this 
morning. All my luggage turned up; no .douane any- 
where except at Calais, where they opened nothing. All 

day long Mr. has been taking me everywhere to 

buy clothes. He looks magnificent, in a furry hat and 
buckled shoes [sketch]. We have the most complete 
freedom here. We must be in by 10 p.m., and that is 
the only regulation at all of any kind. One arranges 
everything for one's self. I went to a coach to-day, Pro- 
fessor Lauri, who is going to coach me for two hours 
a week, and on Friday I start lectures — two or three a day. 

1 From a Catholic hymn for the departed, by Lady Georgiana Fullerton. 

* I cannot determine whether Hugh meant a mill-pond, or not. 

' After he had been shown over a house which he admired immensely, his 
hostess delightedly wrote to Mrs. Benson, " I have never met anybody who 
screamed %o much." 

IN ROME 273 

My room here is splendid — I should say 14 feet high, red- 
tiled floor, two big tables, all other necessary furniture, 
four chairs, and looks out on to a court, where a fountain 
splashes, and a sort of high cedar tree comes just above 
my windows. I made the acquaintance of two cats at 
lunch, and two parrots after — one kept on saying " Papa- 
goletto" = little parrot. 

The clergymen here are very nice — missionaries. They 
have a house in Africa, and have lost by death there 
twenty-two priests in thirteen years ! Climate ! 

This is a gorgeous place. 

... If it is any satisfaction, let me say that the food 
here is excellent, with a bottle of wine each, and a glass 
of marsala and coffee to follow ! 

The church of San Silvestro to which Hugh went 
was typically Roman, cool, calm, and splendid, with vast 
spaces made gorgeous by bronze and marble and damask, 
and pathetic with the offerings of the poor. The silence, 
broken by the sudden clatter of shifted chairs or jangled 
rosary beads, the subtle reminiscence of incense and 
burning wax, different in Italian churches, somehow, from 
anywhere else, are the more significant in San Silvestro, 
seeing that you turn off to it inwards from the uproarious 
Corso, or descend from the worldly Quirinal and newer 
quarters with their cosmopolitan hotels. You go through 
the arcaded passage to the atrium of a church built, with 
a monastery, for Basilian monks, by Paul I, pope some 
twelve centuries ago. The bodies of two more popes, 
St. Dionysius and St. Zephyrinus, and the head of St. 
Silvester, are relics there. St. Tarcisius, a boy acolyte of 
persecution days, lay there too. Part of the Baptist's 
skull had been stored there, and gave the church its 
added title of in Capite. This, in 1870, had been removed 
to the Vatican ; Hugh was to see it solemnly restored, 
but not the Volto Santo, a portrait of Our Lord, painted 
in ancient times, and owned by King Abgar of Edessa. 


But the atrium was made sinister by yet other memories 
of blood. More than one thousand years ago, Pope St. 
Leo III had been dragged into it by a murderous gang, 
who stripped him, stoned him, and tore out his eyes 
and tongue in San Silvestro. Benedictines had followed 
the Basilians, and in 1277 the Poor Clares were given 
the monastery, and there, in Franciscan poverty and prayer, 
they lived till, in 1849, the ex-priest Gavazzi drove them 
out to make room for Garibaldi and his red-shirts. They 
returned, but again, in 1871, they were evicted, and postal 
and telegraphic servants and public offices established 
themselves within these ancient walls " brunis," as Huys- 
mans wrote, '' par la priere." Into this haunted atmosphere 
Hugh Benson came to live. Enough of the old building 
still was standing for the terrific soul-forces, which, by 
his own theory, through so many murderous and mystical 
centuries must have drenched them, to re-issue, as kind 
or dreadful influences, and penetrate his spirit. But at 
first his impressions were confused and over-rapid. 

His stay, however, in Rome falls definitely into two 
parts — the earlier, during which his mind was occupied 
with half a hundred different trains of thought and his 
days with a rush of vehement activities, and the later, 
when all his attention was concentrated on his ordination 
and his future. It seems best, therefore, that, after a short 
account of the outline into which his daily occupations 
fell, I should collect from his letters his dominant im- 
pressions and arrange them under certain heads — thus, 
his visits to the Pope, his literary occupations, the ac- 
quaintances he made, and the like ; and then, that I should 
relate consecutively his plans for the future, as, throughout 
his stay, they grew, altered, and finally took definite shape 
and were realised. 

IN ROME 275 

Of Hugh's first days in Rome it may most simply be 
said that they bewildered and bored him. 

On November 11, indeed, he was fresh enough to write 
to Father G. W. Hart : 

Here, as you see, I am at the centre of papistry. Mr. 
and I are here together — the only two Englishmen ; 

all the others — he gives a list of some five or six names 
— are at the " Beda," which is an annexe of the English 
College, and one or two more at the " Procura " of S. 
Sulpice. We here have entire liberty ; no rules at all, 
except to mention it if we propose to be out after 10 p.m. 
But, as a matter of fact, our day is as follows : rise about 

6 A.M. ( hammers on my wall). Then we go down 

to church about 6.20, and remain there, going " as you 
please " till 7.20 — beads, hours, meditation, prayer, com- 
munion, while masses rumble on at three altars out of the 
nine. (Such a lovely church — frescoed, chapels, marbles, 
idols, &c.) Then at any time that we feel we have had 
enough, generally about 7.20, we go to the house again, 
through a lovely palm courtyard, and breakfast off coffee 
and rolls. Then follows a brief breathing space, and then 
lecture at the Propaganda, in Latin (!), at 8-9 ; huge crowds 
of students — French, English, German, Spanish, Greek. 
. . . Then back home and shave and read and write letters 
and see people till 12.30; then dejeuner, with coffee after- 
wards (!) ; then lecture, 1.45-2.45 ; then sleep or walk till 
4 or 5, when I make tea in my own room (high up, looking 
on to a courtyard filled with trees, tiled, cool); then 
read or write again and go to Benediction, generally in 
church about 5.30 ; 7.30, supper ; then talk or hear music 
or pray or read till 9.30-10 ; bed. Rather a sound day ! 

As for ourselves, we look pretty startling too, in huge 
furry hats and tassels and ferridas and buckles, and we 
go swelling and bulging about as if we had done it for 

But on December 4 he is becoming depressed, and 
writes to another friend ; 

We (i) get up 6-6.30, go down to church and pray 
till 7.20-7.30 ; breakfast ; lecture, 8-9 ; shave, dawdle a 


little, and then read till 12.30; dinner, 12.30-1.30; lecture, 
1.30-2.30, dawdle and walk till any hour — 4, 4.30, 5, 
5.30 ; tea in one's own room ; read ; 7.30, supper ; dawdle, 
talk ; bed, 9.30-10. A misspent day rather, with an ab- 
normal amount of idleness ; but such is the system, and 
one can but follow it. 

I dined with B at a hotel near ... he is a good sort, 

exceedingly humble. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he 
became a Catholic some day ; he has the sort of mind that 
takes easily to this religion. I wish I had ! But, frankly, I 
haven't. Nothing in the world would have made me one, 
except the certainty that it is true, in spite of all the surface 
things that I fear will never be congenial to me. 

Well, do send a line again soon to cheer me up. I 
am an exile and a wanderer. 

He is repeating what he had said to Mr. A. C. Benson — 
namely, that on first joining the Catholic Church he felt 
like a lost dog ; while on November 26, 1903, he had 
written : 

My own news is almost impossible to tell, as everything 
is simply bewildering. In about five years from now I 
shall know how I felt, but at present I feel nothing but 
discomfort. I hate foreign countries and foreign people, 
and am finding more every day how hopelessly insular I 
am, because, of course, under the circumstances, this is 
the proper place for me to be, but it is a kind of dentist's 

Not that the maiestas aurea Romce, the sovereignty of 
that Rome which had made one city of the world, 
escaped him long ; and sometimes his recognition of 
Rome's catholicity will be ecstatic, sometimes just a quiet 
registration of the fact. 

On November 19 he wrote to the Rev. J. H. Moles- 
worth : 

It is indeed extraordinary to be out here, and to feel 
that one is an insider of it all, that one has a recognised 
right to Communion, and so on. But I think the thing 

IN ROME 277 

(since you ask) that impresses me most is the Catholicity as 
contrasted with the Nationalism of England. Of course one 
has always recognised that variety of temperaments, &c., 
is of God ; but also that the work of Grace is to weld 
that variety into a visible as well as an invisible whole, 
and it is that that is so wonderfully evident here — e.g. the 
first Mass I heard here was said by a German, served by 
an African negro, and attended by Italians and myself. 
Every meal I am at, too, is shared by English, Americans, 
Italians, Germans, Canadians — all absolutely one in faith. 
And, above all, the lectures one attends have to be given 
in Latin, as the students are English, French, Germans, 
Italians, Americans, Canadians, Greeks, Armenians. It is 
a sort of sacrament of the City of God every time one goes. 
The effect of the argument is tremendous on the assurance 
of one's convictions. 

And at the very moment that he says, with disconcert- 
ing frankness, that he hasn't « the sort of mind " that 
" takes to " Italian religion, he never for a moment con- 
fuses the ritualistic exigencies of temperament with the 
fundamendal reactions of faith. We shall see this more 
clearly later on. Meanwhile he notes : 

If people of my bringing-up and cast of mind see one 
side of things, and have hold of one hand of Our Blessed 
Lord, these hot Italians have hold of another ; and one 
dare not say that one side is better or truer than another. 

One triviality that at first made him despair was the 
musical shortcomings of Rome, though fortunately he 
began by hearing a papal choir practice " in a dirty little 
chapel off a back street," followed by an introduction to 
Maestro Perosi. " The singing — Palestrina — was superb." 
But this good promise was not fulfilled. On November 15 

he and Mr. " wandered all over the place, trying to 

find a sung Mass, but could not — it was over in the only 
church where they had a respectable choir. The choirs 
are fearful here. Horsted Keynes is a paradise of music 


compared to it, except just one or two, which are really 
good ; and the organ-playing is awful too." This at least 
was saved him when in St. Callixtus's Catacombs he hears 
"lovely unaccompanied four-part Palestrina music, with 

But besides the austerity of plain-song, the suave 
melodies of Anglican hymn-tunes haunt him. He spends 
an evening with "a really nice convert lady, who loves 
the Church of England and the people in it ; and we 
talked like conspirators for two hours ; and somebody 
was playing Hymns Ancient and Modern next door all 
the while ; and we really enjoyed ourselves." Another 
evening he spends in playing these hymns, after " a 
funny little men's dinner-party of converts — Anglicans." 
" We all said how much nicer they were than anything 
we hear in this eternal old city." 

Easter, however, especially the Benedictus of Tene- 
brae, and, of course, the Exultet, and the singing at the 
Benedictine Monastery of Sant' Anselmo, enraptured 
him ; nor had he ever heard anything to compare with 
the congregational singing of Rome when, at Te Deumsy 
for instance, the thousands who had flocked to St. 
Peter's would roar the hymn in unison. " I," he adds, 
" made a loud, buzzing noise with my mouth. ... I 
didn't know the words by heart." 

His relations with San Silvestro were at all times 
excellent. He catalogues his food-stuffs for the consola- 
tion of his old nurse Beth. His John BuUism displays 
itself pleasantly enough when meals have to be mentioned. 
On November i8 he had rashly allowed it to be known 
that it was his birthday. 

On Wednesday my health was solemnly drunk by 
everyone, proposed by Mgr. (delightful ; a wonderful 

IN ROME 279 

musician), in a bottle of peculiarly solemn wine, grandly 
fetched from the cellar ; and I had to smirk and grin 
and pretend it was all right. What queer ways they 
have ! I was expecting to have to make a speech. 

"We have had," he writes on February 14, "a huge 
dinner-party as usual again to-day — 12.45-3 P.M. ! — more 
wearisome than one could believe possible, with about 
eight courses and a great deal too much to drink, and 
a quantity of tiresome people.'^ I beguiled it by doing 
conjuring tricks to [my neighbours] Scotch and Irish 
[respectively], and asking a lot of riddles about two trains, 
and 'that man's father is my father's son.' And I had 
positively to write out the whole thing and draw a 
portrait in a gilt frame before the Irishman could see it." 

Whenever an English personage of importance visited 
Rome, he, with " swarms of doubtful counts " (Hugh, 
like Sir Nevill Fanning, could not take foreign titles 
seriously), had to be entertained at these pontifical 

The heavy ecclesiastical hospitalities prolonged them- 
selves, culminating in the " horrible banquet " of his 
ordination day, when he had, during the much health- 
drinking, " to look down his nose a good deal." 

To Benson, accustomed to his " proper English break- 
fast," and, above all, to no siesta after the stupefying 
meal of midday, these feastings were, of course, excep- 
tionally disconcerting. What with these, and a little 
later his constant dinners and lunches with his friends, 
he found himself, ruefully, to have eaten more at Rome 
than in any one year of his English life. . . . Lent, how- 
ever, took its revenge. Long ago he had written to a 
friend, from Mirfield, that he hated Lent, and that Easter 
seemed an impossible dream. To him, too, he confesses 
that at Rome, in Lent, he goes very cold and hungry 
and half asleep. 


At once, and naturally, he made off to see the Pope. 

Nov. 7.1 

. . . To-day I have interviewed an Archbishop and seen 
the Pope ! 

We went this afternoon to one of the courtyards 

(Mr. and I) of the Vatican, by ticket — a huge 

place, crammed with a garlicky crowd, and all the roofs 
and windows filled.^ A huge red canopy was at the 
wall at the end, with Swiss halberdiers, all on a platform, 
and a blaring band below. . . . He was half an hour 
late. At last we saw halberds going along behind, in 
the cloister ; and the crowd began to sway and roar, 
and a woman fainted next to me. And then he came 
on, all in white, bowing and smiling, and the people 
bellowing " Evviva," and so on. And then he sat down 
and put on a large red hat ; and all his Court, in 
purple and red, standing round ; and a choir sang two 
odes (?). 

And then, at last, he stood up and preached for 
about ten minutes, in a mellow voice, very strong, with 
a few beautiful gestures, spreading his hands out. And 
then, after he had intoned a versicle and response, he 
gave the Apostolic benediction ; and everybody crossed 
themselves and roared out Amen. Then somebody put 
on him his hat again, and an immense scarlet cloak ; 
and the effect of colour was quite extraordinary ; and 
the people howled with delight. Then he walked very 
slowly round the edge of the platform, blessing and 
waving his hand and beaming; he was very much flushed 
with preaching ; and then, at last, he went back. It was 
glorious. Every tongue and nation was there — Germans 
and English and French. . . ! ! Lor ! 

I am going probably to get an audience with the 
Pope in a few days, in the general English pilgrimage ; 
and shall get presented to him. It is a vast affair ; and 
the Archbishop told me too to get introduced by a bishop 
to a private audience. So I shall keep my eyes 
open. . . . 

^ So dated. But from the ticket the date appears to have been the 8th ; 
the hour was 3 p.m. 

* *' Of course," he wrote to P'ather C Bickersteth, " I thought of the quarry." 

IN ROME 281 

I will add at once his narration of other papal and, 
so to say, semi-papal interviews he had during this stay 
in Rome. 

November 15. 

. . . On Tuesday we went to congratulate Merry del 
Val on his Cardinalate. Gorgeous rooms ! the Borgia 
apartments in the Vatican. Alexander VI lived there ; 
and Julius II was the last inhabitant. We went in through 
the Swiss Guard and immense Gendarmes ; a secretary 
in dress clothes, at ii a.m., took our names down. And 
then we went in. He was cordial and nice. He said 
he had read Papa's life with great interest ; and then 
told me to tell him at any time if there was anything 
he could do for me, as he is Secretary of State, and a 
number of other things ; I imagine there will be a few 
things by and by. (It is rather pleasing etiquette that 
in the Vatican people kneel to nobody except the Pope.) 

Then on Thursday [Nov. 12] we went to the Sala 
Ducale to see the Pope and Cardinals go by to a 
Consistory. The Pope walked, instead of being carried ; 
and was not so impressive as on Sunday ; he looked 
tired and miserable, in an enormous mitre glittering all 
over with diamonds, and a cope. And there was no 
music ! Even a court band would have improved it. 

Again on November 29 he writes : 

We all went on Sunday [Nov. 24, at 3.30 p.m.] with the 
English pilgrims to an audience at the Vatican ; but it was 
nothing much — the Pope just passed along, giving his 
hand to be kissed by each person in turn ; and that was 
about all. He obviously hates functions, and looked bored 
and depressed. He dislikes being Pope, I believe, quite 

He did not obtain the privilege coveted by all Catholic 
pilgrims, of assisting at the Pope's Mass and receiving Holy 
Communion from his hand, till January 31, 1904, at 7.15 A.M. 

January 30. 

. . . Earlier in the week we went to call on Mgr. 
Bisletti, the Pope's secretary, to give in our names for 


the Mass ; he lives in large rooms entirely furnished in 
red damask and gold, and is a little man, like a fox-terrier, 
with his head on one side, in purple silk. 

The permission came late on January 29, in "a large 
white envelope, fastened with a scarlet wafer, like a letter 
on the stage," 

On January 31, therefore : 

We went to the Vatican, up staircases and through 
marble and crimson and tapestry rooms, into a crimson 
damask room with two folding doors at the end, wide open, 
and an altar all gold and candles beyond. Then suddenly 
the Pope appeared, ruddy-brown face, white cassock and 
cap, and gave his blessing in the doorway, then vested at 
the altar, with three officials helping him ; in a purple 
jewelled chasuble. . . . He said Mass at a moderate pace 
and voice, with a rather pathetic intonation ; and gave us 
all Communion at the altar-rail at the end ; then he unvested 
and knelt during another Mass said by a chaplain ; then 
gave us his blessing silently and disappeared. And that 
is all one can say ; but it left an extraordinary sense of 
simplicity and humility ; there was not the suspicion 
of an air of a great prelate, except in his supreme 

Pope Pius X used not to make the dazzling impression 
on his visitors which Leo XIII produced. Pope Leo's 
smile enveloped you like a flame, his gestures lashed the 
dullest into alert attention, and his glances were like 
electric shocks. Pius X resembled Pio Nono not only in 
feature, as his portraits prove, but in a certain bonhomie, 
so we are told, and a twinkle of humour, when he was not 
too tired, which charmed many whom Leo's vitality 
terrified. But beyond all else, I think it was the supreme 
recoUectedness of Pius X which remained in one's memory ; 
his eyes looked at you often from an immense distance ; 
and his voice was not without its note of awe even when 
he laughed, and even when he asked the most practical 

IN ROME 283 

questions about, shall I say, food, or studies, or workmen's 
clubs, or Oxford. This was for something in that quality 
of Greatness Hugh diagnosed in him: "To-morrow," he 
wrote on Low Sunday to his mother, " will be splendid, 
when the Pope says Mass in St. Peter's. But he is Large 
too — and likes proper things and people ; and proper 
music, and not MUCK ; and the salvation of souls, and 

The note of " Largeness " remained with him. 

" It was overwhelming!" he wrote.^ " The whole church 
was cobbled with heads, and over that pavement came the 
huge canopy, with the great jewelled figure below it, and 
the solemn fans waving behind. That was one of the 
keenest moments. In front came an almost endless row 
of mitres moving along. Then the plain-song was like 
one enormous deliberate voice talking, and every now and 
then shouting, in that enormous place. And then, of 
course, the final great moment was the Elevation, in dead 
silence, and only broken by the silver trumpets exulting 
up in the dome. It gave one an extraordinary sense of 
consummation — the vision of Christ offering Christ, in the 
very centre of the world, with representatives of the whole 
Christian world there, and the angels blowing their trumpets 
overhead. One felt as if everything that was important or 
real was focused there . . . other things seem very small 
after that." 2 

He had no more audiences from the Pope, I think, until 
just before his departure from Rome, when he armed 
himself with many blessings, and obtained the Pope's 

* spiritual Letters, p. 72. 

* He does not mention a delightful and characteristic incident. Pius X 
disliked the fluttered handkerchiefs and cheers for the Pope-king which gave 
Leo XIII such keen satisfaction. He had ordered that there should be nothing 
of the sort. None the less, during a certain ceremony, the suppressed enthusiasm 
of the crowd was beginning to break out at certain points. Benson leapt passion- 
ately on to his bench, and with waving arms and energetic hushing enforced 
silence so very authoritatively, that the Who is he ? eagerly asked by all around, 
sufficiently substituted a new centre of disturbance. 


white silk skull-cap/ according to custom, offering an 
exactly similar one in exchange. He obtained a special 
blessing for " Father Benson's family and nurse, and three 
books," and also permission to say Mass in his mother's 
house. This took place on June 24th. 

However, for a mind constituted as his was, the Pope's 
presence was always present as a kind of sustained pedal 
note in the changing harmonies of Rome. Wherever you 
are, on the Quirinal as on the Palatine, in the Corso and 
Trastevere, it is quite impossible to forget him. He foresaw 
that Catholicism would become ever " more papalistic and 
more liberal." Such, indeed, was his own career. The 
Pope haunted him, and it is in his two strange books, Lord 
of the World and The Dawn of All, that he gives full play 
to his homage to the " Christ on Earth," as St. Catherine 
of Siena so boldly used to call Christ's Vicar. In The 
Lord of the World, Pius X is most directly recalled. He 
is John XXIV, the Papa Angelicus who "had cared, it 
appeared, nothing whatever for the world's opinion ; his 
policy, so far as it could be called one, consisted in a very 
simple thing ; he had declared in epistle after epistle 
that the object of the Church was to do glory to God by 
producing supernatural virtues in man, and that nothing 
at all was of any significance or importance except in so 
far as it effected this object." However, this John XXIV 
was as vigorous an organiser as ever was Pope Pius, 
whose reforming activity so much disconcerted his con- 
temporaries. Pius X made a very strong hand felt 
throughout the world of seminaries, of ecclesiastical law, 
of music and of art, of criticism, of journalism, of social 
work ; though it was in his supreme resolve to " recapi- 
tulate all things into Christ," his campaign against modern- 

* It is now in a glass case in ihe middle of the Hare Street library mantelpiece. 

IN ROME 2?5 

ism, and his decrees about Communion, that he struck that 
great blow for the supernatural which Benson more quaintly 
imaged forth by the transformation of Rome by Papa 
Angelicus into a mediaeval city. However, Pope John was, 
in Benson's mind, the summing-up, no less, of all the Visible 
Church. His face, with its hawk's eyes, its clear-cut, yet 
passionate lips, its firm chin, its generous and sweet poise, 
" between defiance and humility," and its strange youthful- 
ness, was indistinguishable from a " composite photo " of 
representative priests, when exhibited to laughing crowds 
at music-halls. In the novel, of course, Julian Felsenburgh, 
the Antichrist, is not so much an incarnation of Satan, as 
the adequate representative of humanwise perfect Man, 
called, therefore, by the New Thought, divine. But this 
Pope was his absolute and final contrast, inasmuch as he 
on his side summed up, representatively, the Church, the 
body of the Incarnate God. "One of the two, John and 
Julian, was the Vicar, and the other, the Ape, of God." 
"The two cities of Augustine lay for him to choose." In 
their measure, too, the kings and emperors, "the lonely 
survivors of that strange company of persons who, till half 
a century ago, had reigned as God's temporal Vicegerents 
with the consent of their subjects," proclaimed the in- 
sufficiency of human sanction and authority. It would be 
well, if there were space here, to quote the very gorgeous 
pages in which Benson describes the procession of their 
monstrous coaches, with their eight horses, " the white of 
France and Spain, the black of Germany, Italy, and Russia, 
and the cream-coloured of England." Lions, leopards, and 
eagles guarded the royal crown upon the roof of each ; up 
scarlet carpets, between rows of glimmering halberds, the 
tremendous Royalties passed, until they sat, in splendid 
isolation, beneath great baldachins, on whose damask 


surfaces " burned gigantic coats supported by beasts and 
topped by crowns." The papal procession entered : 
trumpets cried aloud, and the tens of thousands, crowding 
the basilica, roared acclamation to the Supreme Pontiff. 

Far ahead, seeming to cleave its way through the surg- 
ing heads, like the poop of an ancient ship, moved the 
canopy beneath which sat the Lord of the World ; and 
between him and the priests, as if it were the wake of that 
same ship, swayed the gorgeous procession — protonotaries 
apostolic, generals of religious orders, and the rest — making 
its w^ay along with white, gold, scarlet, and silver foam 
between the living banks on either side. Overhead hung 
the splendid barrel of the roof, and far in front the haven 
of God's altar reared its monstrous pillars, beneath which 
burned the seven yellow stars that were the harbour lights 
of sanctity. It was an astonishing sight, but too vast and 
bewildering to do anything but oppress the observers with 
a consciousness of their own futility. The enormous 
enclosed air, the giant statues, the dim and distant roofs, 
the indescribable concert of sound — of the movement of 
feet, the murmur of ten thousand voices, the peal of organs 
like the crying of gnats, the thin celestial music — the faint, 
suggestive smell of incense and men and bruised may and 
myrtle ; and, supreme above all, the vibrant atmosphere of 
human emotion, shot with supernatural aspiration, as the 
Hope of the World, the holder of the Divine Viceroyalty, 
passed on his way to stand between God and man. 

The Pope stood at the altar ; to him, driven from their 
thrones, came the kings and emperors to minister at the 
Mass. They poured water, they placed cushions, they bore 
his train. Towering above the world was the figure of 
Christ's Vicar, until, the miracle being accomplished, the 
Christ himself was there, and Pope and kings bowed equally 
before their Lord.^ 

* When Percy Franklin himself is Pope, the allegory us completed, but the 
scene and incidents are no longer drawn from Benson's experience of Rome. 
They stand separate and on their own merits, and I will speak of them when 
The Ijtrdofthe Wctrldmmx Ijc alluded to. 

IN ROME 287 

Benson's love for pageantry reveals itself again in the 
Dawn of All, where the Pope, Temporal Ruler of all Italy, 
and practically acknowledged by the whole world as its 
spiritual lord, rides triumphant across Rome. The same 
" stage-properties," if I may call them so, repeat them- 
selves ; the self-same adjectives are used. The out-of-door 
procession replaces the progress through St. Peter's ; the 
blessing from the balcony is substituted for the Mass. A 
tremendous reception, glittering and noisy, displays the 
Vatican, from an exactly opposite point of view, as a focus 
of power. But Benson is insisting on a subtly differentiated 
doctrine. In both novels the Pope stands for spirit acting 
through the flesh ; but in the first the emphasis is on the 
spirit ; in the second on its incarnational vehicle, so to say. 
The Pope is the average man ; he is a safe financier ; he 
has never faced a crisis, but is sound at business. . . . He 
offers to the world that heavily human aspect which enabled 
Benson, in anglicising Giuseppe Sarto's surname, delibe- 
rately to speak of Pius X as Bishop Taylor. This jars on 
perhaps a majority of hearers. But why deny the fact ? 
It is a supreme illustration of his ruthless recognition that 
that in which the spirit incarnates itself is flesh and nothing 
else. It is utterly of a piece with his displeasing portrait- 
ures of priests, his relentless ridicule of ecclesiastical art 
and jargon and mannerism. It would be false wholly, 1 
will not say to his exterior attitude, but to something very 
deep-set in him indeed, were it to be disguised that in his 
sacramental construing of all life, he deliberately and rather 
brutally insisted on the human coefficient throughout. 
Observe, too, that in the later novel the balance is redressed 
with skill, almost with ingenuity. The Monsignor, inclined 
to think this Catholicism too worldly, leaves the reception, 
loses his way in the labyrinthine Vatican, pushes open an 


unguarded door, and surprises the Pope at confession to a 
Franciscan friar. He was overwhelmed. 

. . . He had seen nothing remarkable in itself — the 
Pope at confession. And yet in some manner, beyond the 
fact that he had groped his way, all unknowing, to the 
Pope's private apartments, and at such a moment, the 
dramatic contrast between the glare and noise of the recep- 
tion outside, itself the climax of a series of brilliant external 
splendours, and the silent, half-lighted chapel where the 
Lord of all kneeled to confess his sins, caused a surprising 
disturbance in his soul. 

Up to now he had been introduced step by step into a 
new set of experiences, Christian indeed, yet amazingly 
worldly in their aspect ; he had begun to learn that religion 
could transform the outer world, and affect and use for its 
own purposes all the pomps and glories of outward exist- 
ence ; he had begun to realise that there was nothing alien 
to God, no line of division between the Creator and the 
creature ; and now, in one instant, he had been brought 
face to face again with inner realities, and had seen, as it 
were, a glimpse of the secret core of all the splendour. 
The Pope, attended by princes, the Pope on his knees 
before a bare-footed friar ; these were the two magnetic 
points between which blazed religion. 

Thus then the spiritual element is re-introduced, and 
the humiliation of the flesh is only the more sharply 

A series of religious functions makes Rome unique 
among the world's modern capitals. 

From the outset Benson assists, much puzzled how to 

judge them, at these displays which alternately inspire and 

disconcert him. 

San Silvestro in Capite, 

November 20. 

I am beginning this letter earlier this week, as there will 
be a rush on Sunday, I expect, as I am going off to St. Cal- 
lixtus's Catacomb for Mass, as it is St. Cecilia's Day. 
(Privately I am not quite sure of the connection, but daren't 
ask. I am nearly sure that her body was found there.) . . . 

IN ROME 289 

On the i8th I went to Vespers and the exhibition of 
rehcs in S. Peter's, as it was the dedication festival. This 
last ceremony was immensely impressive. Vespers were 
booming away in a chapel, and had been for about an 
hour ; and the church was getting darker and darker. 
There were no lights except on the altars all round, and 
they only looked like tiny sparks ; and the confession and 
papal altar was twinkling like a Christmas tree ; but it was 
so dark in the top of the nave that one could not recognise 
faces. Then suddenly the bells jangled loud ; a procession 
with lights and a bishop with a cope and mitre, and Ram- 
polla in scarlet, came out of the chapel with a great crowd 
following ; the lights went up everywhere simultaneously, 
everybody went on their knees, and right up in a gallery in 
the dome, where eight huge candles were burning, a man 
appeared, a little figure in white, with a reliquary, which he 
waved up and down as he walked to and fro. First he 
showed the Lance, then the True Cross, then the handker- 
chief of St. Veronica. Then he disappeared, everybody got 
up and went away, and it was over. 

But I don't really like functions ; I wish I did, because 
it is the chief occupation of everyone to go to them. 
Yesterday, as I had a Httle cold, I stayed indoors all day 
and worked in the library, and wrote letters and saw no- 
body, and loved it. 

On Sunday he adds : 

Yesterday I went to St. Cecilia's Church ! My word ! It 
was her eve. The church was crammed; and a magnificent 
choir was singing Vespers and " In Organis Cantantibus." 
Below the High Altar is her body : the tomb blazing with 
lights, and a crowd fighting to get near it ; the crypt of 
the church is her house, with all the mosaics left that she 
trod upon. She was half-beheaded, you know, and lived 
three days, and then "fell asleep"; and her body was 
found in the catacomb, her head on her hand, lying on 
her side, as if in a natural deep sleep. The stone where it 
was found forms an altar-slab in the crypt ; and people 
were kneeling there and kissing it and laying their rosaries 
on it to-day ; while that glorious choir was pealing away 
overhead. My word ! ! The Communion of Saints means 
something here ; there were bishops, and peasants, and 
bald-headed men, and children all crowding everywhere ; 
I T 


every chair taken ; hundreds standing, and walking, and 
kneeling as they liked. Really this religion is alive. 

But more extraordinary than anything was Mass this 
morning in St. Callixtus's Catacomb, sixty feet down ; High 
Mass in the chapel where her body was found, lovely four- 
part unaccompanied Palestrinian music, with plain-song ; 
a crowd crammed along the passages of the catacombs ; 
the whole place full of red and white chrysanthemums and 
altars with hundreds of candles. One went straight back 
1800 years, when the same words and language were used 
in the same place. It has touched me far more than any- 
thing in Rome. 

He took the habit of attending Mass at certain cata- 
combs on the patronal day of their chief martyr, and would 
send home box-leaves from their decoration. The spell of 
the catacombs never diminished for him, and you will 
find that in Initiation the scene in the catacombs is more 
touched with genuine emotion than almost any other. 

He participates next week in a Cardinal's Mass, and a 
colossal procession of the Blessed Sacrament in St. John 
Lateran, and, perhaps because the unaccompanied choir 
sang Palestrina exquisitely, ends with the outcry, which 
will grow frequent, " It was a gorgeous ceremony." 

On December 19 he and a friend attended an Ordina- 
tion, also at the Lateran, the late Archbishop Stonor's kind- 
ness having obtained seats for them. On their arrival at 
8.35 A.M. the ceremony had "well begun," and was not 
finished at 12. "There is a tremendous moment when 
the choir is filled with men in albs, flat on their faces, 
without stirring. This goes on for about ten minutes, as 
the Litany of the Saints is sung. Tremendous ! All the 
names of the Archangels and Saints one after another, 
followed by * Ora pro nobis,' until you are aware that the 
entire Court of Heaven is assisting. . . ." 

In Rome, it may not generally be known, many other 

IN ROME 291 

rites are observed besides the Roman, especially about the 
time of the Epiphany, which was from the outset the 
Eastern Christmas. Benson did not appreciate them. 
"There has been," he wrote on January 10, 

... a round of Oriental rites here, with choirs howling 
like Dervishes, and tinkling long poles with bells on them, 
and beating tom-toms ; and that is about all. I suppose 
it would be very interesting if one knew what it was all 
about ; but, as it is, it is only rather interesting. 

He returned with satisfaction to popular and really 
Roman ceremonies. 

Thus at Ara Cceli, on the last day of the Epiphany 
Octave, an " amazing " Te Deum was 

sung by the choir and bellowed by the congregation in 
alternate verses ; a Bishop made a sermon, holding the 
Bambino in his left arm, from the altar-steps, to a packed 
crowd, who rushed up to kiss its silver foot after. It was 
really most beautiful and impressive. 

The popular singing of Te Deums always impressed 
him. On the 19th of March, Feast of St. Joseph, and the 
Pope's name-day, he mingled with the twenty thousand 
worshippers who thronged St. Peter's, and with whom, 
when " they ROARED the Te Deum," he, not knowing the 
words, made the " loud buzzing sound " already told of. 
But it was with Holy Week that the real " whirl of cere- 
monies" began. The fifty thousand at St. Peter's for 
Thursday Tenebrae, the hundred thousand who visited 
San Silvestro's Altar of Repose on that same day, impress 
him, but 

best of all, and one of the few ceremonies at which 
there was sufficient peace to pray, was at S. Teodoro's on 
Good Friday morning : a little round reddish church, on 
the foot of the Palatine, just below the Caesars' palaces. 
It was striking to hear there, " If thou let this Man go, thou 
art not Caesar's friend," and "Whosoever maketh himself 


king speaketh against Caesar ! " There was a choir there, 
a mediaeval Guild, entirely of Roman nobles, in sackcloth 
and ropes and hoods, who kissed the crucifix barefooted 
at the " Creeping to the Cross." And there was only a 
small congregation, and I had a chair, which is a luxury 
at great functions.^ 

Then, [he goes on,] it was heavenly this morning at 
St. John Lateran — I got there at seven, and met carts drawn 
by oxen and piled with olive-branches coming in from 
the country. The first main ceremony was the blessing 
of the fire by the Cardinal Vicar ; this was done in the 
transept ; then one of three candles on a pole all wreathed 
with roses was lighted, then another a few steps farther 
on, and then the third ; and at each the deacon in white 
sang out " Lumen Christi," and everyone roared " Deo 

Then he sang the "Exultet" — such a song! — from a 
pulpit, and lighted the huge Paschal Candle in the middle, 
and went on with " Sursum Corda." . . . Then I rushed 
out about nine, and got coffee at a shop, and ran back to 
the Baptistery, which was all strewn with myrtle and 
flowers ; then the procession came in singing " Like as the 
hart desireth the water-brooks," and the water was blessed 
and a Jew-child baptized. It was glorious ; and then the 
procession came out again across the square and back to 
the church ; and Mass began in white vestments ; then 
the climax came at the " Gloria in Excelsis." The Cardinal 
put on an enormous gold mitre and bellowed the first words, 
then the organ and ALL the bells roared and jangled for 
the first time in a sort of frenzied voluntary ; and then the 
choir began ; and when I came out, as it was late, all the 
bells in Rome were ringing — MY GOODNESS ME ! What 
a religion it is ! You feel that the entire creation has part 
in it, and that nothing is common or unclean after Chris- 
tianity has taken it in charge. 

Easter by Easter his soul will exult in tune with this 
resurrection-hymn, and to it he consecrates some of the 
most sweet and childlike of the pages in his Papers of a 
Pariah. On Holy Saturday he watches the blessing of 

* A small sketch of a penitent follows. It has its vitality: the bare toes 
are wisely allowed to overlap the margin. Hands and feet are the last detail 
an untrained pencil is willing to attempt. 

IN ROME 293 

clear fire and water, of holy gums and spices, and of 
paschal wax. The " Exultet " was intoned : 

It was a song such as none but a Christian could 
ever sing. It soared, dropped, quavered, leapt again, 
laughed, danced, rippled, sank, leapt once more, on and 
on, untiring and undismayed, like a stream running clear 
to the sea. Angels, earth, trumpets, Mother Church, all 
nations and all peoples sang in its singing. And I, in my 
stiff pew, smiled all over my face with sheer joy and love. 

He piles up quaint appreciations and childlike specula- 
tions : the " wealth of divine contradiction, delirious para- 
dox, and childlike wisdom" of this master-song enchant him. 

I wonder if anyone will think me irreverent in my 
thoughts ? They will be wrong if they do, for I am as 
sure as I can be that this is more or less what the Catholic 
Church meant me to think. She wished me to be as 
happy as a child — happy because Jesus Christ was risen, 
and because she was happy . . . God who has made the 
sun and the sea, who shines and rains upon just and unjust 
alike, will not be angry with me because I loved to see 
how He can deal with plain things — how He can make 
water holy as well as beautiful, and fire to lighten souls as 
i well as eyes. . . . 

Noticeable, then, as an element in these great ecclesi- 
astical pageantries, was the enthusiastic devotion of the 
people. The spectacle of masses of men and women not 
only joining with passion and intelligence in a superb 
ritual, but wanting that ritual, and finding it in their blood, 
and coming to it as to an enthralling beauty ever old 
and ever new, was unknown, hitherto, to Benson. It 
witnessed to a mode of inner life, to exigencies of worship, 
to an incarnate mysticism, with which he was thoroughly 
in tune. I have said how, in the Pope, he diagnosed a 
supreme example of spiritual power expressing itself 
through flesh. An encounter he made within a week or 


two of his arrival impressed him in a similar fashion, 
and in letters, right and left, he alludes to it : 

November 15. 

Yesterday after lecture an old man was pointed out 
to me in the garden in a filthy old cassock and hat, and 
unshaven, but with one of the most ethereal faces I have 
ever seen. There was a group of stolid working-men star- 
ing at him ; and Father Vaughan whispered to me that 
he was going to be a saint some day. It is one of the 
things in Rome to see him say Mass ! and he, of course, 
is blankly unconscious of it all. It is so interesting to 
see a saint in the making. 

In the behaviour of the people, especially in their rela- 
tion to the Blessed Sacrament, he finds the same spirit 
expressing itself. 

"The two pivots," he exclaims, "on which all life 
turns, are Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and His 
people." And again and again he laments that people 
who come to Rome permit themselves to see only the 
wrong things. " They don't know how to find the people 
at their prayers." 

November 7. 

The religion here is astonishing. Crowds of people 
here at every Mass and Benediction. Last night in the 
Redemptorist church there was some splendid popular 
singing, like a Mission. And insects abounded. 

And a week later he wrote to Miss Kyle : 

November 14. 

A couple of days ago in this church here, in about three 
minutes, the following things happened within a yard of 
me. First a man came, knelt before " Our Lady Hope of 
England," crossed himself with oil from her lamp ; another 
came, knelt, said the prayer for England, kissed the glass 
in which it was framed, and went away. Then I moved to 
the Pieta ; one man was already kneeling there, and in a 
moment more came another, moaning out prayers aloud 
as he came, knelt, stretched out his rosary towards the 
images with hands outstretched, got up, reached towards 

IN ROME 295 

the railing, touched Our Lady's foot, kissed his hand that 
had touched it, and went away. 

And that kind of thing is going on all day, everywhere. 

"In the evening," he elsewhere writes,^ after an. almost 
textual reproduction of the above, " I went to the gallery, 
where I was alone. Benediction was going on below ; 
nothing to attract ; hideous music, the continued creaking 
and groaning of chairs, no organ or choir, and a crowd of 
seventy or eighty people (just an ordinary week-night), and 
a breathless, rapt silence at the moment itself. The atmos- 
phere of faith and worship was overwhelming, especially as 
it was so singularly unattractive from every physical point of 
view. . . . Yet [there was] this crowd, scattered in a great 
disorderly group, all adormg That which was in the mon- 
strance in the little dim side-chapel. And that goes on 
night after night all the year round, and this church is not 
exceptional at all. . . . The devotion of the people is beyond 
all description, especially, I really think, of the men, who 
form quite half, if not more, of all the mid-day congre- 

" Everyone gets his own chair and kneels, and plants it 
exactly where he likes, at any angle, pointed towards any 
Mass that he likes. ... I was watching a well-dressed man 
this morning, with no book, but whose lips were moving 
quite incessantly; and another, a rough- haired boy from 
the country, absolutely rapt and motionless, kneeling on 
the stones, with his face hidden for, I should think, half an 
hour. The sense of worship is beyond anything I have 
ever dreamt of out of heaven." ^ 

It was, of course, at the Exposition of the Blessed Sac- 
rament that these displays of popular yet intimate devotion 
reached their most poignant manifestations. On March 
26 the Quarant' Ore was proceeding at San Silvestro. 

It is most moving. I looked into the church at mid- 
night, last night, from the grating, and there were four 
men kneeling and praying, and the altar was blazing with 
candles, and great banks of white flowers on each side 
running down the flight of steps into the church. The 

^ spiritual Letters, p. 53. - Ibid., p. 64. 


Queen is there now, with her ladies on each side. She has 
sent most of the flowers too. There is always at least one 
church all the year round in Rome where it goes on, and 
it is always well filled all day. It is one of the most over- 
whelming things in the whole place. Men take the night 
watches, of four hours each — 10-2, 2-6. 

A similar centre of devotion was San Claudio, close by. 
He refers to it so often that, at the risk of being tedious, I 
shall quote from the letter to Father G. W. Hart of 
November 1 1 : 

And now for the real thing. The religion is something 
surprising. You cannot find a church that is not continu- 
ally alive with people of every sort and class, all mixed. 
It is almost impossible to select, but two stand out in 
one's mind : (i) the Redemptorists ^ [sketch] ; on Satur- 
day evening we went there for shriving ; the church was 
full, organ booming a litany, people and priests roaring it ; 
lights blazing, " Our Lady of Perpetual Succour " beaming 
in a corona of candles over the high altar, and incense 
reeking. At the moment of benediction the organ blared 
out, and the bells began to peal feverishly ; I wept ; there 
was indescribable melody and light. (2) St. Claud — Per- 
petual Exposition goes on here. The Blessed Sacrament 
stands continually with a great ermine robe behind it 2 
[sketch], and a crown over it, and candles below, with men 
in cottas kneeling before it, and the body of the church 
humming with prayer. The devotion of the people is quite 
beyond describing. I don't know what people mean when 
they say that the worship of Our Lady is thought more of 
than of the Blessed Sacrament. There is nothing resemb- 
ling it. There is perpetual and fervent enthusiasm. . . . 

As somebody said, papists out here are like spoilt 
children of God, as entirely at home as in their own houses. 
I have watched children during Mass sitting flat in the 
middle of an inlaid floor, treating it as a kind of castle, and 
tracing its foundations with filthy fingers. But the prayers 
of them and the people, when they set themselves to it, are 

^ He finds the Redemptorists' work incomparably efficacious, but, curiously 
enough, never (that I know of) showed signs of wanting to join their Company. 
^ The coronation robe of Napoleon I. 

IN ROME 297 

simply indescribable. They fetch a chair, making it squeak 
all across the floor ; plant it where they like, have a word 
or two with a friend, fumble about for beads, then kneel 
down solid on the stone floor, and remain entirely motion- 
less for half an hour. I have watched a big boy here once 
or twice, a Yahoo with matted hair, in a kind of yellow 
suit, dirty beyond description, absolutely motionless, kneel- 
ing for half an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. My 
goodness me ! You come into a church at any hour you 
like, and there are at least half a dozen people, men and 
women equally, sitting in the very middle of the magnifi- 
cent marble floor, with their hands before them, looking, 
and looking, and looking at the tabernacle. And you go 
out half an hour later, after wandering round, and there 
they are still. 

Well, I could go on for ever, but I won't. But the 
reality of it all is beyond all description. 

On November 20, he wrote to Mrs. Benson that while 
he is getting lower and lower at the thoughts of the certain 
refusal, by his prospective publishers, of his book By What 
Authority ? he is already devising the plot of another one, 
of Charles II's period. I reserve, for the moment, the 
many references to this book, and I will indicate the kind 
of religious preoccupations which made a mental back- 
ground for a life in which such ceremonies as I have 
described stand more visibly in relief. 

In November, his days still were cursed with fatigue 
and boredom within, and thunder and rain without — " quite 
like an English June." 

Sunday, November 28. 

... I dream of Horsted Keynes almost every night, 
and cannot describe how much I want to be there ; I hate 
towns and " abroad." . . . 

My " wobblers " are dropping in : two more since I 
wrote have written to say that they know now how it is 
going to end ; and I am putting one in connection with a 
priest. But they are suffering dreadfully, and nobody 
seems to realise that. 


By December 6 the flatness of life has been diversified 
by a domestic ceremony, the return to San Silvestro of the 
head of St. John Baptist from the Vatican. 

December 6. 

. . . The chief thing is the return of St. John the 
Baptist's head to this church from the Vatican after being 
away for thirty-three years. One can't say whether one 
"beHeves" it to be the head or not — one's imagination 
cannot grasp what it means ; one can only paw it. But 
here it is ; brown and shrivelled and without the lower jaw ; 
and its record goes back I don't know how many centuries. 
It is in a gorgeous reliquary, with pearls and amethysts, 
altogether about 7 feet high. We met it at the door with 
torches and cottas and pealing bells ; it came in a waggon 
drawn by mules. . . . 

This attitude towards relics and this psychological 
quality of belief in their authenticity is interestingly alluded 
to. Before now, he had asserted, after Newman, that he 
believed, but did not know that he believed. So here, in 
minor affairs, he could not be sure of his spiritual state. 
Probably it was intermediate. He certainly believed that 
St. Paul's body " without a shadow of doubt " lay beneath 
his altar at San Paolo fuori le Mura, and that St. Peter's 
was under the Vatican basilica. He as certainly did not 
believe in the uncanny experiences he liked to admit as 
thrills, now as much as ever. A singular passage occurs 
in a letter written on Low Sunday : 

I went to see a church yesterday that you would loathe ; 
but I have never seen such extraordinary things in my 
life — a collection of shirts and habits and tables and 
books and things on which Souls from Purgatory had 
laid their hands ! — and left dreadful marks ; and an 
extraordinary face that appeared on the wall in the church 
itself eight years ago, at the end of a series of devotions 
for the Souls in Purgatory — a really wonderful face of 
sorrow and pain and joy; it is there to this day — I will 
tell you all about it when we meet. I know it all sounds 

IN ROME 299 

very unconvincing and materialistic, and that was exactly 
what I thought till I saw them all. But they are simply 

He was in all this, as usual, two persons ; aloof critic, 
and schoolboy eager for thrills. 

Thus, a little later on, from Naples, he will gleefully 
write : 

This flat is haunted ; I will tell you about it sometime ; 
I had an awful night, I daresay subjective ; and was 
awakened twice by a smashing blow on the door. It was 
really rather a blessed moment to hear at last the bells of 
the goats and cows going to pasture, and the cocks crow- 

His mother played up gallantly, and wrote in reply : 

. . . Mr. L told us yesterday of a haunt in the 

rooms he had at Cambridge a week ago — when screams 
came from the washstand during the night, twice. He said 
the first scream awoke him, and he "lay awake the whole 
of the second scream ! " but nothing happened. ^^ Tell 
me more about your haunted room at Naples. 

He answered : 

My "haunt" at Naples was of two violent blows in the 
night which awakened me — (on my door) — but this was 
after I had been told that a phantom cat had been seen by 
Mr. Spender, that his brother, who is a seer, had been in 
great terror of a woman whom he knew instinctively was 
haunting the place ; and that a family had previously left 
the rooms " because Aunt saw things." „ 

Parallel with this he can write : 

I have also met a number of psychical people — Pro- 
testants, and convinced ones — of no particular denomina- 
tion. Only one of them will do at all — all the rest are 
simply credulous, and get cross if one suggests at ail that 
other explanations may possibly account for their little 
boshy things. 

And he still takes a purely objective interest in his 


dreams ; and records them with meticulous care. I select 
one example. He wrote on February 27 : 

A good dream last night : that the Archbishop had put 
a marble flight of steps, with a carpet down the centre, 
instead of the wooden staircase that joins the corridors : 
and that on each side of the carpet, like an advertisement 
at Earl's Court, the name of a book or person that he or 
E. had found "helpful." [A sketch follows.] The only 
name I can remember was that of a book called A Rose of 

I thought it rather ingenious and nice : it made going 
upstairs really interesting, and started innumerable trains 
of thought ; and I remember coming downstairs back- 
wards in order to reflect. 

Meanwhile his spirits were rising, and in his religious 
life the pressure was removing itself. " May I say some- 
thing ? " he writes on December 6 : 

. . . The deadness which has been on me without a 
break since Easter, has gone at last — only a day or two 
ago, suddenly. It's a blessing. And I know myself well 
enough to know that it won't come back for the present. 
Best love to everyone — especially Beth.^ 

^ Had he been reading Tennyson's Vision of Sin ? 

^ How communicative, in one sense, his letters were felt to be, I judge 
from the following extract, written when he was still depressed and bewildered. 
His mother on her side wrote to him an admirable series of letters describing 
the outward events of the life which continued, though he had left it, in England ; 
her reflections, too, on persons and incidents she generously passed on. Hugh 
still, if I dare surmise this, was too preoccupied in assimilating new impressions, 
to be conscious of his or others' most truly personal lives. 

" December 3. 

"I think I do understand about your life," Mrs. Benson wrote, "and you 
give so many pictures I can see it all — I wish it was more interesting ; but I still 
think it is good for you on the whole — to have that acquaintance with the centre 
of things which you don't get anywhere else. I think you are very generous 
about the ' Seminary spirit,' and, of course, I am glad you agree with me. 

" Beth is frightfully pleased to hear how much you eat and drink, and beams 
over your letters, and the ' especially Beth.' " 

She herself contributes pen-pictures largely, and laughs over Lord Goschen's 
criticisms on ecclesiastical personages in the Anglican Church. " Lord Goschen 
is a delicious person to talk to ; he plays the game of Conversation-on-a-week- 

IN ROME 301 

This rare self-revelation finds itself explained perhaps 
by another. To a question of his mother's he once 
answered : 

There is no inner photograph to give, except that I 
am wholly content and satisfied. Granted a " revelation," 
all other forms of propagating it are unthinkable, except 
as purely temporary ; I know everything must come back 
to Rome some day. 

" In Rome," she had written, " on your birthday, and, 
so to speak, 'for Roman purposes!' But there is no 
sting in it." 

He made at this period one of his brief and rather 
unlucky "tours of observation" over the field of general 
theological and critical interests. 

Dec. 6. 

Have you heard much about Abb6 Loisy, I wonder ? 
He is the French higher critic, and will probably be con- 
demned ; and if he is, goodness knows what will happen ! 
He seems to be the only person who knows about the 
Bible at all, in France. 

Dec. 10. 

" Loisy ! " his mother answered. " O my dear ! But he 
out-herods Herod in his higher criticism, I believe. The 
who/e Bible is an allegory." 

Dec. 17. 

" Loisy ! " he writes a little later, in answer to a question. 
" Yes. If you have the Pilot, please read the article on him, 
by a ' Roman Catholic Correspondent,' in the issue of 
December 17. They are my sentiments. Also, remember 
that it does not mean that his books are untrue, but only 
inopportune, and that people are no more ready for them 
than children are ready to be told many perfectly true 
facts about the world. ' I have many things to say unto 
you, but ye cannot bear them now.' " 

" This, of course, is on the supposition that they are true. 
This argument is not ' a back way out of difficulty ; ' it is 

end better than almost anyone I know. I walked between him and Lord 

on Sunday afternoon and listened to Old Cabinet talk and New Cabinet 
criticisms. . . ." 


the front door wide open. The Index does NOT state that 
the books are untrue, but that they are calculated to pro- 
duce an untrue or disproportionate impression." 

When it became clear that the Abb6 Loisy was no 
more, and perhaps had long ceased to be, a Catholic, he 
dropped completely and finally out of Benson's preoccu- 
pation. This always happened ; it will be so with Murri, 
and with Tyrrell. It will be so with the many upon whom 
Hugh Benson passed, at first, a favourable, but mistaken 
judgment. They are "condemned"; he drops them with 
scorched fingers, and passes quickly on to some other 
luminous point, heedless, perhaps, whether it too is to 
prove a burning coal rather than a safely guarded lamp. 

He stayed in Rome for Christmas, and was delighted 
with the celebrations. His window, moreover, a large 
one, "six feet by five, I should think," had not once 
been closed yet, night or day, except when rain positively 
streamed on to the floor. 

"It is ideal weather again, sharpish, brilliant sun and 
blue sky, windless." The limpid air of Italy is an untiring 
marvel for him. " I was in Italy," he writes in the Papers 
of a Pariah (p. 95), "where the air is like water, and the 
water like wine. Morning by morning I awoke to the 
crying of the swifts outside, drawing long icy breaths of 
freshness, seeing the netted sunshine strike on the ceiling 
from the jug of water on the floor, hearing the rustle of 
the leaves below my window. There, in Italy, the morning 
struck the key of the day ; the world was alive there, and 
as good as God made it, and everything was in His hand." 
This crystalline character of the air, this sharpness of im- 
pressions, carried out in the wheeling flight of the swifts 
and the crisp outline and sound of the evergreens, is what 
seems (beside the blue of sky and sea) to stand out best 

IN ROME 303 

for him, in reminiscence, against the blurred and hesitating 
shapes and tints of England. 

Meanwhile the churches, within, were growing fearful 
and wonderful to his Northern eyes, with red damask, 
tinkling chandeliers, and astounding cribs. He delights 
in these, partly with the direct sympathy of a child who 
loves to see spontaneous self-expression, partly with the 
naughty glee of one who feels he is taking all possible 
wind out of the sails of Protestant critics. What they 
expect him to be shy of and explain away, he exults in. 
He visits the Ara Cceli, and finds two "brown friars 
making the crib. . . ." 

Dec. 20. 

It was ... a whole chapel made into the stable, with 
shepherds all along the side, life-size and hideous^ and card- 
board angels descending ; but it was heavenly, with a 
crowd of children running up and down the steps into 
it, and being pushed off and jawed and jawing back. And 
we saw the " Bambino," covered with rings and bracelets, 
and, lor ! — nobody but convinced papists should be allowed 
to see that. ... I can imagine nothing that would more 
put off an inquirer. 

And here I insert his own rubric : 

About what I want " private," may I explain my views ? 
When I say ^^ absolutely private," I mean nobody. When 
I say " private," = Maggie and Lucy and Beth may be told, 
but nobody else, and they under promise of secrecy. And 
when I don't say anything, but merely abuse papists and 
papishing ways, will you use your discretion rather severely ? 
You see, I am frank. 

The reader, too, will in all discretion evaluate Hugh 
Benson's vivid criticisms. 

He went to Naples on December 26, and was enchanted 
with so new an experience. The rooms, to start with, had 

exquisite furniture, all old, damasky and brocady and 
gilded, with embroideries and pot-pourri and cabinets 


and little Renaissance temples with Christian and pagan 
images, and peacock curtains and tiled floors, and all very 
large and breezy, with balconies, and a sheer drop of a 
hundred feet into the town, and the bay beyond. It is a 
lovely day too — no fires, and all the windows wide open, 
and Venetian shutters drawn, and the sun lying in streaks 
all over the rugs and tiles. There are books everywhere 
too, bound in vellum and brown leather. It is really all 
beyond words, lovely. 

Neapolitan religion he delighted in, of course, and found 
the somewhat sober Roman cult enormously enhanced by 
the Southern passion of these children of God and Greece. 
He tells everybody about a certain " image of the Blessed 
Virgin, in a glass case, dressed in blue silk, and holding a 
lace handkerchief in her hand. But the devotion of the 
people was extraordinary — audible praying during Com- 
munion, and quite remarkable reverence, as well as com- 
plete freedom. The priest was perfectly rapt in prayer, 
but interrupted himself twice to spit. . . ." 

He is enraptured with the town ; not one single British 
criticism. Capri lies "like a blue cloud across [the bay], 
and Vesuvius, looking as if it was made of purple velvet, 
slowly smoking." He visits Pompeii, and his pages bristle 
with triple exclamation marks. Vesuvius shows only 
through a storm, as it did all those centuries ago. Light- 
ning flashes ; the clouds are black ; but the tourist climbs 
bravely, and peers into craters, and chokes in sulphur 
fumes. He buys a "charming clergyman," a "perfectly 
beautiful clergyman, a cardinal in fact, made to be looking 
on at a crib, dressed in faded red silk and exquisite lawn, 
and eighteen inches high." ^ So, too, are the Neapolitans 
" charming " ; the cook begs leave to come and say good- 
bye, and kisses his hand. Children kiss it too, in the 

^ He is standing now (August 1915) on the library mantelpiece at Hare Street, 
and is too lanky for grace, and looks intoxicated. 

IN ROME 305 

street ; their probable hope of largess does not worry 
him. He watches a nun's progress down the road, perfectly 
mobbed by the devout crowd eager to salute her. '' And 
yet," he says serenely, "the comic man at the Miracle 
Play is a drunken priest." Certainly Benson's quality of 
humour would have held firm in the Middle Ages. His 
eye is fixed on facts — " Your life," one wrote to him, " is 
all elvai, and not hoKelv ; so much of civilisation is merely 

He adds : 

Yesterday, when I went to Communion, a dirty white cat 
was sitting on the altar-rail looking at the communicants, 
and on another evening two more cats chased one another 
about the sanctuary during Benediction, and were finally 
shoved away ; because they yowled so. And yesterday, 
during Exposition in the Cathedral, when the whole place 
was breathless with prayer, a cat was proceeding alone up 
the very middle of the nave. 

There was no more irreverence, he quite well saw, in the 
behaviour tolerated from these luckless cats than in what 
we submit to when bees come buzzing, or draughts flitting, 
or sunbeams filtering through that consecrated air. 

On his return to Rome he settled down in good earnest 
to work at his novel. 

Jan. 10. 

I go down to the English College library a good deal 
now and read up Charles II. It is perfectly fascinating, 
and glimpses of a book are slowly dawning ; but I don't 
want to petrify anything till I know more history. I went 
to see some Jesuits about it, and one of them began, just a 
little superciliously, " The book for you to read is — let's see, 
what is his name ? he died in the fifties, I think." I said, 
" Yes, Lingard ; I have read him." " Oh, well, then you 
ought to read one of our Fathers' books — Father Morris." 
"Yes, Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers; I have read 
it." " Oh-h, well, there is a very interesting, but very big 
I U 


book by another of our Society — Foley's Records of the 
Society of Jesus." "Yes, I know that well." 

Then he took me seriously, and was perfectly charming, 
and took me all over the place, and to another library, and 
helped me to search for books, and told me to come again. 
And I giggled stupidly all down the street when I left him. 

Besides this, he worked at the Vatican : 

Jan. 1 8. 

. . . The last three mornings I have torn off to the 
Vatican Library ; and the first two were entirely occupied 
with red-tape, or, rather, the first time it was shut, " because 
it was Thursday." But such a place ! with no red-tape 
when you get inside ; you may pull it about, and take 
down books, and leave them about, and shove ladders 
about, without reproof. 

Also, he sends for Evelyn's Diary; Pepys's too, and 
finds himself writing diaries in his style. 

He began to be impressed, moreover, by pagan Rome. 
" Pagan Rome," he writes on January 23, " is simply over- 
whelming, and I am going to see a lot more of it." He 
begs for a Marius. " I must read it all over again out 
here." Marius was, however, long delayed ; and I fancy 
his ardour for the pagan relics cooled. To tell the truth, 
unless a man's imagination be most fully nourished and 
highly reconstructive, the blurred lumps of masonry, thrust- 
ing their sudden bricks through the modern pavement, the 
lonely columns, and arches half engulfed, the bleached and 
desiccated Forum, mean tantalisingly little. An unleashed 
imagination is, of course, disastrous. Benson's was neither 
reckless nor, on this point, well informed ; what he saw 
of ancient Rome, he saw through the eyes only of that 
grave Epicurean youth, brooding, like Inglesant, over a 
life which he took far from at its face value and (for that 
is no sin) most individualistically. Benson never wrote 
anything frankly absurd, like Lytton's book, about Pompeii 

IN ROME 307 

or pagan Rome, but he could have by no means reached 
such an admirable approximation to reality as, for example, 
*' John Ayscough's " Faustula achieves. This book stands 
to the period of the Antonines about as close as By What 
Authority does to Elizabethan days ; but its added spice of 
modernity points ruthlessly the parallel between collapsing 
paganism and the decadence of the English Church, a fact 
which has caused much annoyance to sensitive reviewers. 
Benson would have loved to use the selfsame theme ; it 
was, for him, too elusive ; but he very nearly perceived the 
possibility of a novel illustrating the Church's Catholicism 
in view of her relation to paganism. 

'^ Marius," he wrote on March 13, "has arrived safely, 
and I have flown through the first volume. It is extra- 
ordinary how out here one feels that all that was good 
in the old religions has been taken up and transformed in 
this. A great deal is just the same, both of the externals — 
the processions, statues, lights, shrines, and so on — and of 
the internals — the familiarity with the supernatural, the 
sense of God manifesting Himself locally, and of the 
saints looking after you in a secondary sort of way. It 
is one of the most convincing things I have ever come 
across. I feel I know Marius as never before, and that 
we should have been able to talk about "our common 
faith." And, if I may go on a moment, that is where 
Puritanism seems to fail. It has gone on perpetuating 
the exclusiveness of early Christianity, which was neces- 
sary enough until Christianity was out of danger of being 
absorbed, but is wholly harmful now that Christianity 
is strong enough to absorb everything else. A divine 
religion must include in itself natural religion, or it is 
simply a new natural religion itself — one more among the 
others. Isn't that the whole difference between sectarian- 
ism and Catholicism ? " 

Jan. 13. 

" I am immensely interested," his sister wrote, " by what 
you say of the way in which Roman Catholicism explains 
other religions. Of course I see that must be in a sense 
true because of the very fact that, on the other hand, the 


reproach is that it has amalgamated with paganism and 
taken up heathen superstition with itself. There is a truth 
that lies between the two, or is rather vindicated by both." 


It was, then, quite early during his stay at Rome that 
Benson conceived the idea of a novel dealing with the 
period of Charles II. To collect his references to it will 
be interesting, as showing his method of work, and his 
consultation with his mother, so close as almost to deserve 
the name of collaboration, and in this way it will be found 
that many other allusions are explained. Moreover, if we 
are to have, in imagination, a true picture of Benson's 
mental preoccupations at Rome, we cannot afford to post- 
pone these extracts till we mention, in its proper place, 
tbe Oddsfishfinio which this Charles II story grew. 

Nov. 20. 

... I wonder if there is any news of my book [By 
What Authority]. Personally I am getting lower and 
lower at the thought of it. Of course Isbister won't accept 
it ! but I am beginning to wonder whether anybody will. 
All the same, I am madly beginning to think about another 
— period, Charles II ; hero, a Roman Catholic clergyman 
(as I need scarcely say), who goes to Court, nearly joins 
the Church of England, and finally becomes a Benedictine. 
He is to meet John Inglesant in England, now an old 
man. He is grandson of Isabel, and has just seen her 
when he was a child, and so on, and so on. Charles II 
looms large in it. I really am beginning to have an 
affection for him. 

Had Benson been able to plan his work a little more 
widely, this novel and sanctified Rougon Macquart series 
might have formed an exceptionally subtle study in 
history and heredity. He continues on January 10 : 

Please give me your advice about my new book. My 
hero, Nicholas Buxton, a priest, is the grandson of Isabel, 

IN ROME 309 

who, by the way, did marry Mr. Buxton after all. He has 
succeeded, so far as I can find out, to Tremans, and has 
no relations. Shall he live at Tremans like the others ; 
or shall he have a small house in Kensington, with square 
windows and a little paved court with a plane-tree in the 
middle, and let Tremans to a papistical lady ? The 
advantage of Kensington lies in the fact that he will be 
able to drop into Whitehall at all hours ; but, again, I doubt 
whether the paved court will be a suitable place for re- 

If you will let me know, I will tell him, and see what 
he thinks himself. 

Mrs. Benson answered that the hero was to live '' in 
Kensington, not Tremans (except on a visit), and the 
paved-tiled court in summer — lovely ; you see it would be 
practically in the country, and he could have an oratory 
for the winter. Tell him I have seen him there, and 

Hugh answered : 

I have given your message to Nicholas Buxton, and 
he will consider Kensington more than ever with your en- 

January 23. 

What do you think of this for a plot ? Three divisions ; 
it begins by a priest leaving a Benedictine house here to 
work in England, (i) The first division is his first tempta- 
tion, which is to run away when the Oates Plot begins. 
He is really afraid of being hanged, but he stops through 
it, and ministers to the prisoners. (2) In the country near 
West Grinstead he falls in with a girl, Gertrude Maxwell 
(a grand-daughter of Hubert and Grace), and in trying 
to convert her gets very strongly attached to the Church 
of England, its refinement and gentlemanliness, and so on, 
and its moderation and quietness and church music ; he 
also falls in love with Gertrude, who represents the Church 
of England at her best. He goes through an immense 
struggle, and wins. (3) He goes up to Court, and works 
in Charles II's reunion schemes, and this becomes to him 
the most subtle temptation of all, because it seems to be 
for God's glory, until he finds out that the methods used 


are not good, and that it is really worldliness dressed up. 
Charles II dies, and James II offers him a post at Court; 
but he throws it all up, and goes back to Rome to pray 
and work straightforwardly. I think it may work out 
rather well, as the temptations go in a steady gradation 
of subtlety ; and it gives any amount of opportunity for 
background — the Court, country life, &c. What do you 
think ? 

A week later he has the first two parts " ranged out in 
chapters," but finds part three much harder to "put in 
order." Charles II, he finds, "made definite proposals 
to Rome in 1662, and that the Pope answered ; but his 
letter is lost, so I am inventing one, and am making 
Charles revive his proposals in 1682, and employ my hero 
in them, especially in sounding the Anglican authorities." 
He then begs his mother and sister to send him " notes 
pictorial, &c.," of " three or four important Anglican 
people, especially the two Archbishops, Ken and anyone 
else, whom, if possible, I can place in London." During 
the next week the book speeds ahead. 

Nicholas Buxton at this moment has entered the King's 
room. I am furnishing Whitehall, regardless of expense, 
with silver-mounted mirrors and bronzes and tapestries, 
and dressing Nicholas in a black periwig, with lace and 
sword ; and they are all beginning to talk of themselves, 
Beth has been accused of witchcraft years ago, and has, 
besides, a great grey cat in her garden, and is now looking 
after Nicholas's house in Kensington, with Susan and a 
man, and has had a door made, quite useless, which she 
imagines he will escape by when the constables come . . . 
and Isabel Buxton's portrait hangs in Nicholas's study, 
and he has a lock of hair of Anthony's that Isabel cut 
in the Tower after his death ; and so on. They are all 
going to have such times ! 

The book grows so engrossing that he had "to make a 
rule not to work at it before dinner, except on Sundays 
and Mondays " ; but by the end of February social functions 

IN ROME 311 

are undertaking to put any necessary drag upon the work. 
However, on February 27, after a week's depression, he 
announces : 

Book rushing along. A nice clergyman (of the Church 
of England) has made his appearance — really nice, and 
I haven't an idea where he came from : he is not like 
anybody I know. A Fellow of Christchurch, Prebendary 
of Chichester, squire of Great Keynes; old, thin, ruddy, 
musical, humorous, gentlemanly, and mystical ; and he 
wears an iron-grey wig and will shortly carry a silver- 
headed cane. Ultimately he is to represent the academic 
spirit — as opposed to the " Gospel of the poor " ; and the 
second part of the book turns round him and Gertrude 
Maxwell. He carries Nicholas with his nasty seminary 
ideas altogether off his legs, and plays melting tunes on 
the Chichester organ among the grey shadows, and so on. 
I just looked into a room, and there he was, so I listened 
to his remarks. 

March 26. 

My book is creeping on, and becoming very psycho- 
logical ; and I am getting the unfortunate Nicholas into 
such an internal tangle that I cannot imagine how I am 
ever to get him out ; and he has got to go deeper yet, 
poor man; and finally a kind of Beth will get him out, 
I suppose. And I am getting really sorry for Gertrude. 
She is so very nice that I hardly have the heart to make 
her end so drearily ; but she will do it, and I can't stop 

Easter, with its ''whirl of ceremonies," intervened. 
"The book is hopelessly stuck. It is no sort of good 
doing it sentence by sentence — and my pond is empty, 
of course." 

However, the "really nice" clergyman, "my old 
friend Mr. Rogers, to my great regret, has turned out to 
be a shallow, old, heartless man. I don't know what to 
do, I am so sorry. He was so nice before. These people 
are going along quite independently of me, and I can't 
help it. And another nice man is turning out rather a 


brute too." A little later, and "the book is sailing ahead 
again." He reads it aloud to a priest, who is delighted, 
but foresees violent criticism. Benson, he holds, though 
touching " the most delicate possible point " (a priest 
falling in love), has not " said one word that is offensive 
at bottom." " He has encouraged me enormously. He 
sat, the other night, trembling with excitement, with his 
mouth and eyes open, as we skirted along the very brink 
of what was possible, and he panted with relief like a 
whale when it was over. I am pleased with myself." 
New characters appear and vanish. The first draft will 
easily be finished by his return. "You will be pestered 
with the whole of it, every word from beginning to end, 
over again." By May 15 : "I only have about three more 
chapters or so. It has been flowing like a stream. It 
must be called A Seminary Priest of the Seventeenth 
Century}- I have to run furiously with pen and paper 
all over the country after my characters ; they are be- 
having wildly, and most psychologically ; and Dr. Ken 
has just been appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells, and 
the Jesuits are on the very edge of the line, so that it 
depends on your prejudices as to what you think of their 
actions, exactly as it does in real life. My Irish priest 
giggles all over at their goings-on, and says it is perfectly 
inoffensive, and just like them." On May 21 he is in 
retreat at Sant' Anselmo. The book "is just on the 
point of ending ; only one more chapter now ; and I 
tremble so much that I daren't begin it. The finality of 
it paralyses me. I shall read it solemnly aloud at Tre- 
mans, so to speak, from 12-1 and 4-5 on Mondays, 
Wednesdays and Fridays, whether anyone comes to 
listen or not." 

^ He had not yet experience in the phoice of " selling " titles. 

IN ROME 313 

Trinity Sunday. — The book is FINISHED. I do wonder 
whether it is any good at all. I shall love to read it aloud. 
And now comes the labour of rewriting it ; there are 
endless things to do at it. All kinds of people have to 
be planed down and carved and re-grouped. But I shall 
reserve the general re-editing until I come home. 

He had added, too, one delightful postscript : 

P.S. — Nell Gwyn is at this moment bowing on a 
platform, and I must rush and let her sit down. 

Little more is needed to make us regret that Oddsfish 
was not allowed to appear more nearly as it was con- 

Besides this book, he was working at the City Set on a 
Hill, of which mention has sufficiently been made above ; 
and in April he is still toiling away, with immense joy, at 
proofs of A Book of the Love of Jesus. 

" It is heavenly. It begins : ' When thou orderest thy- 
self to pray or to have any devotion, begin by having a 
privy place away from all manner of noise. ... Sit there, 
or kneel there, as is most to thine ease. Then, be thou 
lord or lady, think that thou hast a God that made thee of 
nought . . .' and so on. I wish," he adds wistfully, " I 
could get a privy place here, away from all manner of 
noise ! " 

To his first convert, Miss Lethbridge, he later wrote : 

Yes ; aren't those old English devotions quite perfect ? 
They are so extremely sturdy too, and have a kind of pierc- 
ing sweetness that is to the ordinary sweetness as flowers 
are to artificial scents. They are to ordinary devotions as 
Palestrina to Gounod, Pugin to Bodley, &c. &c. . . . For 
one's private prayers, it seems to one that with the office 
to represent liturgy, and with the old English devotions as 
material for mental prayer, one is completely equipped. 

However, in April 1904 ^ he declared that '' I am terribly 

^ spiritual Letters^ p. 73. 


afraid that Catholics will not care for the book. It is too 
Saxon — such words as ' amiable ' are not permitted for 
a moment. But I am sure you will like it. The devotions 
are an extraordinary mixture of passion and restraint, 
strength and delicacy. ..." A friend at Rome gaily 
agreed with him : " Catholics won't in the least under- 
stand them. All they want is a dreadful thing called 'An 
Universal Prayer,' in which one asks God to make one 
' submissive to one's superiors, condescending to inferiors,' 
&c." ; while long ago his Anglican publisher had regretted 
that the book " fell between the two stools of devotion and 
scholarship." Yet in May he has resolved not to be 
deterred by either group of critics, and decides on the 
design for the cover — pierced hearts and roses, and " a 
frontispiece of the Five Wounds." You will notice that 
this is the book of which Lady Maxwell in By What 
Authority keeps a slightly idealised edition beside her, in 
the shadow of the yew hedge as she and her sister, the 
old ex-nun, take it by turns to read and embroider at 
Great Keynes. 

The book did not actually appear till late in 1904, and 
acknowledged its debt to the suggestions and help of Fr. 
Frere of Mirfield. The bulk of the material is drawn 
from the writings of Richard Rolle, the hermit of Hampole, 
near Doncaster, who died in a.d. 1349. A brief account 
of this English mystic, whom Benson loved second only 
to Juliana, the ankress of Norwich, is added in an appendix 
to the prayers, and Rolle himself will reappear as the 
foundation of the exquisite Richard Raynal, the book 
which its author loved best of all his writings, while the 
name Rolle, curiously enough, is deliberately given, in shape 
Rolls, to the rather terrible hermit of The Sentimentalists , 
just as Abbot Raynal, of Sant' Anselmo in Rome, will 

IN ROME 315 

supply a name for the saintly hero of the later romance. 
In his preface Benson explains his system of a minimum 
of adaptation and adds an introduction dealing with the 
main ''Characteristics of English devotions." These he 
reduces entirely to the principle announced by Mother 
Juliana when, disregarding the friendly " proffer in her 
reason to look up past Christ to His Father," she 
" answered inwardly with all the might of my soul, and 
said : Nay ; I may not ; for Thou art my Heaven ... I 
would liever have been in that pain till Doomsday than to 
come to Heaven otherwise than by Him. . . . Thus was 
I learned to choose Jesus to my Heaven." From the 
passionate and, if you will, downright romantic devotion 
to the Humanity of Jesus Christ flowed directly the extra- 
ordinary intimacy of speech in these old devotions, and 
of "tender colloquy" with our Lord which so much 
affronts the orderly prayer forms of our cultured worship ; 
Benson hated Latinisms and loathed gush ; but he could 
not bear formality, and was sure love should be ardent 
and eager in its ways. Filial worship for Mary, and a 
minute devotion to the details of the Passion, were further 
consequences of the direct childlike association between 
the writers of these prayers and the unseen Presences. I 
would say at once that Benson's own amazing ejaculations, 
his " Dear Lord, do wait just one moment " ; even his 
"Oh yes, Lord — just one more cigarette," were expres- 
sions (shocking, it may be, to those whose spiritual lives 
are lived, as most men's are, on a totally different plane) 
witnessing to the presence in him of this self-same child- 
like familiarity of intercourse. And if the possibility of 
this habit requires more illustration, I would send the 
sceptical outright to the Life of Mother Margaret Hallahan, 
who is herself sufficient answer. For the vividness and 


sweetness of such intercourse, apart from its whimsicality, 
he himself refers to the spiritual habit of John Inglesant ; 
and with a fearless trust in truth, he tells you of the same 
spirit dominant in the Puritan Isabel ^ whose whole 
spiritual life centres round the Person of Jesus Christ. 
JhesUy JhesUy esto michi Jhesus was long to him a sufficient 
prayer. The Friendship of Christ is his own tale of this. 

His life at Rome, however, was far from being merely 
one of worship and of literature. Roman, especially 
Anglo- and American-Roman, society claimed him ; and 
in his letters to his mother, it is easy to follow his gradu- 
ally changing views upon its character. 

He was initiated soon enough into the preliminaries 
of Roman social life. 

November 20. 

There is a lot of stuff here about calling that I cannot 
bear ; it is all the same thing. We have to have cards 
printed, and leave them on people ; and they come and 
leave them on us ; and then you never see them again. 
... It all does seem to me a most astounding waste of 

But his earliest friends are domestic and ecclesiastical : 

I have made great friends with two extremely Irish 
priests, with flaming red faces and a brogue that leaves 
stains behind it, and a strong smell of snuff. But they 
are delightful ; and one of them is the best-educated man 
[I have met] ! . . . [he] knows lots of things — George 
Meredith and George Eliot and optics and innumerable 
funny stories not connected with ecclesiasticism. I have 
given him John Inglesant to read, and he is absorbed by 
it at present ; but he can't hold with Fr. Sancta Clara's 
treatment of Inglesant at all ! 

Apart from these, his animals make him happy. He 
has a new dog, two cats, two parrots ; and " The cats come 

^ By What Authority, p. ii. 

IN ROME 317 

continually to my room, especially one who climbs on to 
my shoulders and lies down on the back of my neck." 

His visit to Naples, moreover, opened out wider experi- 
ences, and before Christmas he had a standing invitation 
to a villa at Fiesole, and soon enough he begins to inveigh 
against feminine " clacking " and that anti-Anglican gossip 
which always makes him lose his temper. It is in January 
that the round of hotel-visiting begins : already he despairs. 

[anuary 18. 

I am beginning to meet a lot of people ; and I solemnly 
march out with visiting cards in a cigarette case nearly 
every afternoon, in buckled shoes and a furry hat ; but I 
cannot abide it. One sits and quacks about small ecclesi- 
astical details until one never wants to see a chasuble or a 
relic again. Bah ! 

January 23. 

I have made a number of acquaintances, most of whom 
I never wish to see again ; they talk ecclesiastical shop to 
me, down to my level, until I want to tell them I am an 
ancient Roman, and burn incense to Jupiter ; but I think 
they would rather like that, so I refrain. 

Among these, however, he will find others to refresh 
him. Of one friend he writes : " She has a delightful sort 
of spiritual and moral aroma and an English air that was 
like a summer breeze in this country." 

But he begins to consider that the cleavage of really 
ultimate importance is between " Old and New Catholics," 
or again, between " Black and White." 

There are two classes in the Church : (i) " Old Catholics," 
who are still smarting from the memory of the Penal Laws 
and who, rather naturally, but very wrongly, think that 
every convert is a wolf, or rather an ass, in sheep's clothing, 
and that there is no grace or goodness anywhere but among 
themselves ; (2) modern people, who have grasped that the 
world has moved on, and that exclusiveness is untrue, as 
well as bad policy, and that converts have a knowledge of 


the world outside that no one else can have ; and that 
converts can be as papal as you like, without being latitudi- 
narian. There is no doubt that (i) is decreasing, and that, 
whether they like it or not, new blood means new ideas. . . . 
And at present the conflict lies there. Really that principle 
goes deep — or rather those two principles ; and they 
underlie the whole secret of growth, viz. centralisation and 
expansion, and a healthy growth must include both ; the 
"lengthening of cords and the strengthening of stakes." 
My diagnosis, therefore, is that we shall get more and more 
papalism and more and more breadth, and the " Curia " 
and the modern thought are correlative and complementary. 

Mrs. Benson diagnosed in the antagonism of the " old " 
Catholics towards the " new " that f eehng which is summed 
up in the reproachful phrase, " Thou hast made them equal 
unto us " ; while as for centralisation and decentralisation, 
" Don't you think," she suggested, " it often has to be one 
at a time ? " To tell the truth, Benson was not thinking 
much at all just now. He was collecting impressions and 
allowing his soul to respond vigorously to each emotion as 
it came. Later he will synthesise. One of his most 
permanent conclusions will be, that never once has he 
personally experienced anything save what was kind and 
courteous, and indeed more than generous, at the hands 
of the Old and of the Black. 

He visits Sant' Anselmo's with two ladies, and enjoys it. 
" But I cannot see myself quacking away at tea and getting 
in and out of victorias and so on ; it is wretched work." 
But he immediately follows this up with a '' quacking tea- 
party," at which he tells ghost-stories, and by February 20 
he has hauled down the flag. He dines out, it being a 
Friday in Lent, with an American millionaire. He was 
reassured " by being shown first into a private room, where 
two Cardinals and an Archbishop were bowing and murmur- 
ing to one another and to four or five magnificent ladies ; 

IN ROME 319 

but I got out with fair grace." Moreover, he fully enjoyed 
himself, and there were '' an immense amount of very funny 
stories." And now the pen-pictures begin. There is the 
stout, fabulously rich lady who lives in a palace and thinks 
him a sort of Walter Pater : " You should hear our high 
talk ! I was conducted gravely round the library the other 
day, and had to comment in a literary manner on people 
I had scarcely heard of." Books are sent him. He is 
going ... "to make acute remarks about Paul Bourget, 
and pull him solemnly to bits — Lor ! " In fact, he can say 
by February, " I contemplate myself, and am amazed, 
because I am beginning to quack as if I had never done 
anything else." With one hostess " I, so to speak, take my 
meals once a day and twice on Sunday " ; another, whom 
he doesn't much like, "so to speak, goes to tea with the 
Pope." He meets and sees much of the late Lady Herbert 
of Lea, " black of the black," but whom the English colony 
in Rome will certainly remember with affectionate respect 
for very many years. Her drawing-room was undoubtedly 
a magnet for the devout and clerically-minded laity ; but 
it was not least by the good offices of some in her immediate 
entourage that the doors of those white salons which he 
ultimately found so congenial began to open for him. 
" It is most interesting," he keeps repeating, " but very, 
very odd. I have never spent such a queer Lent." But 
he made some enduring friends. For many years the 
name of Princess Ruspoli, whose sons he assisted in their 
education at Eton, recurs in his letters. " Also," he writes, 
" I have met some more of the Vaughans ; they are a 
wonderful family, all simply as good as gold, and asto- 
nishingly simple. There is a nice Captain Vaughan, 
with beautiful boots, and a face like a hidalgo, intensely 
religious." Father Bernard Vaughan was full of admiration 


for Mgr. Benson in later days ; he realised how fully 
Benson's " blossoming " was due to his Catholic atmos- 
phere. Benson considered Father Vaughan's sermons 
very "evangelical," and obtained his promise to preach 
when Buntingford Church should be opened ; ^ and it was 
in Mrs. Charles Vaughan's house at Broadway that he 
took what was almost his latest holiday. It was now, 
too, that he met Lady Kenmare, whose hospitality in 
Ireland was to create for him some of the most refreshing 
spaces in his laborious years ; and Cardinal, then Abbot, 
Gasquet, ^^ so nice, and English and sensible. And he will 
not let me kiss his hand. . . . He is giving a lecture pre- 
sently to a Society of Anglican clergy, and is going 
to do Henry III, and talked to me about Provisors as if 
I knew all about it ! " 

" I have also," he writes, " been meeting some danger- 
ously White people, and like them very much more than 
the Blacks ; they are really sensible ; and above all I had 
a solemn conversation in Italian for forty minutes with 
Don Murri, the leader of the Social Democratic Catholics. 
He is a clergyman, small and black and academic, and is 
a sort of Mephistopheles to the Blacks. We conspired to 
meet, privately — I said I daren't go to his house ; and, so 
to speak, we all wore sombreros and cloaks. It was ex- 
ceedingly funny. He only once entreated me to say a 
sentence again in English, as he thought he would be able 
to understand it better so. . . ." 

" I have been meeting some more horrid Blacks," he 
writes on Low Sunday, '' with their minds about as t3ig as 
o ; I want to plant them one by one on separate islands 
in the middle of the Atlantic, and let them be rained and 
blowed upon until they understand that Almighty God 
is a little larger than themselves. But I am afraid they 
would only make an oblation of their sufferings to St. 
Joseph in honour of the Fourteen Misunderstandings of 

1 A promise kept when Mgr. Benson was there no more to assist. 

IN ROME 321 

St. Symphorosa, for the Intentions of the Pope. I have 
also been meeting some nice large people, convinced 
papists — who hate clergy and functions and businesses — 
almost as much as I do. I sat next a nice girl of that 
sort yesterday at lunch, and we didn't talk about St. 
Gregory once." 

"It was," he found, a "real delight" to meet people 
like the distinguished prelate who, on his saying he wanted 
to serve Mass at certain shrines, replied, "Oh, I don't 
hold with all that shrine business " ; and with the lady 
who is " sound and sensible, though a papist ; when there 
is a function in Rome she immediately gets a cab and 
drives out at the gate farthest from it ; and she loathes 
clergymen. The more one is here, the more one settles 
down on two facts — (i) that the Rock of Peter is the only 
conceivable foundation ; (2) that a large number of people, 
especially clergymen, who stand on that Rock, are hope- 
less." In his letter of May i, at a hint from his mother, 
he develops the distinction between the Rock and its 
tenants. He still deplores that pruning off of "every 
shoot and leaf except the ones of faith and morals " which 
he believes the seminary system inflicts on its victims ; 
but he already sees that " when you do get a nice priest, 
he is simply nicer and broader than anyone in the world." 
For once, he applies a principle of judgment from which 
great consequences for his whole life proceed. 

" Partly," he says, " I think the hopelessness of the 
others comes from the fact that many people are unable to 
hold more than one idea at a time. In Anglicans that one 
idea is the mystery of God ; in papists, the revelation of 
God. The two texts that correspond to these two points 
are (i) 'God is a Spirit,' (2) 'The Word was made flesh.' 
And, for practical life, I have no sort of doubt that the 
second is the best. Lor ! it is all so clear ; and I am 
working all that into my book." 

I X 


" I was awfully interested," Mrs. Benson replied, " in 
all you say about the ' Rock and the people who stand on 
it,' and especially the two texts — and I accept fully the 
first as ours, though we naturally both claim each others' 
also. Yet, after all, * God is a Spirit ' are our Lord's own 
words. I think it is qmfe true that you specialise much 
more than we do, and divide life up, and 'for practical 
life ' many Roman ways seem to me much more adapted. 
We rather take a great principle, and chuck it out, and 
leave people to do what they can with it ; it all comes 
back to the two large principles of Liberty and Authority. 
Our people make just the mistakes and get into just the 
difficulties which attend learning your responsibilities, and 
yours seem to me to abandon greatly personal responsi- 
bility, and have the virtues and faults of such a position. 
Oh, how I should love to be able rea/fy to picture the con- 
dition of things as regards all this, before the Reformation ! " 

Undoubtedly Benson's charm was making for him 
those varied friendships which precluded so much that 
might be narrow and bitter in one whose friends were 
few and homogeneous. 

" It is really rather remarkable," he writes, " the way 
in which we have made friends with both sides. We lunch 
with Lady X about once a week, where everybody is coal- 
black, and there is nobody but clergymen and the devout ; 
and go in and out anyhow at the Y's, where there is never 
a clergyman to be seen. I wonder if we are simply crafty 

He was most happy, too, in the society of Mr. and Mrs. 
Wilfrid Ward, with whom he inaugurated an acquaintance 
which brought him into touch with some of his most con- 
genial friends — Mr. Reginald Balfour, for instance, with 
whom he was to collaborate, and other fellow-contributors 
to the Dublin Review. It was a happiness to which he 
often recurs that here he once more met Lord Halifax. 
" I walked home with him, and we jawed." 

He had, too, in April, an interesting meeting at an oppo- 

IN ROME 323 

site extreme — with the Rev. R. J. Campbell, then of the City 

To Miss Kyle he wrote : 

I met Mr. Campbell the other day, the minister of the 
City Temple, and I hardly ever have met anybody so attrac- 
tive. . . . He was the kind of person with whom one wastes 
no time in talking about the weather and the train-service, 
but with whom one can get to the point at once — I don't 
mean of controversy, but of common religion. I am look- 
ing forward so much to seeing him in England. He was 
simply delightful, and won everyone's heart. 

The friendship was not transitory, but proved, indeed, 
so faithful, and was so unlooked for, I confess, by many 
who restrain their activities and affections to those " of the 
household," that I may be allowed to emphasize it some- 
what by quoting almost in full the very interesting letter 
Mr. Campbell has courteously written to me upon his rela- 
tions with Hugh Benson. 

It would be beside the mark altogether were I to add my 
own comments upon Mr. Campbell's judgment ; any point 
of which he speaks, and which appears to suggest reflection, 
will, I hope, be treated elsewhere in these pages. 

Savernake, Aston Road, Ealing, W., 
Dear Father Martindale, — In compliance with your 
very kind request, I can but say that it affords me gratifica- 
tion to say a little about my late friend Mgr. Benson. I 
first met him in Rome soon after his reception into the 
Catholic Church. We were both the guests at the time of 
Fr. Whitmee of San Silvestro in Capite. I was strongly 
attracted to him, and from that time until his death we 
remained on terms of friendship, and met at not infrequent 
intervals. Curiously enough, however, I do not recollect 
ever having met him in the company of other Catholics, 
except on the occasion specified, although I am fortunate 
in enjoying the friendship of not a few. I never went to 
Hare Street, and now deeply regret that I was unable to 


keep my promise to do so in response to his repeated 
kindly invitations. He has been to see me on occasions 
even at the City Temple — privately, of course, and not 
during the holding of any religious service. We have also 
met at the house of a Protestant friend, and I have been 
his chairman at three or four public meetings during the 
last ten or a dozen years. He has twice or thrice addressed 
City Temple audiences, each time with the greatest accept- 
ance ; indeed, it is but true to say that no member of 
another communion was more loved and admired by my 
people than he. In saying this perhaps I ought to add 
that the meetings in question were not held on the City 
Temple premises, but in public buildings elsewhere. The 
most memorable of these took place only a short time 
before his death, when he spoke on psychological research 
from a religious standpoint. Nearly three thousand per- 
sons heard that address, which was a remarkable feat of 
oratory as well as of clear, sane reasoning and illuminating 
statement. His previous visit had been to a much more 
restricted audience, and on a semi-private occasion, when 
he discoursed with equal eloquence on the Catholic Church 
and the Future. 

His influence among Protestants was extraordinary ; I 
do not know any living Catholic who approaches it. As 
he said himself, the last time he stood before a City Temple 
assembly, twenty years ago it would have been unthinkable 
that a Catholic speaker expounding Catholic doctrine 
would have been given a sympathetic hearing on a Pro- 
testant platform. He was good enough to credit the 
difference to me, and said so very emphatically in replying 
to a vote of thanks ; but in this he was mistaken ; it was 
he himself who made the difference. The charm and 
beauty, the boyish frankness of his manner, together with 
his evident sincerity and spiritual power, captivated every- 
body and made him irresistible. Perhaps I ought to 
mention that for some years before his death he had occu- 
pied with myself and others a place on the advisory board 
of the Christian Commonwealth, a religious periodical with 
an open platform — a sort of popular Hibbert Journal. Mgr. 
Benson's position there was used solely for the purpose of 
revising before it appeared any reference to the Catholic 
Church or statement bearing upon Catholic views in regard 
to public affairs. It did not follow that he agreed with it, 
but in the interests of fairness and accuracy such articles 

IN ROME 325 

or paragraphs were always submitted to him before publi- 

As to my own personal relations with him, there is not 
much that I should care to say in print. I remember 
asking him in Rome, in the first flush of his enthusiasm as 
a convert, what he found in the Church of his adoption 
that he had not found in the Church of his father, begging 
him at the same time not to give any reply if he shrank 
from doing so. He sat for a moment or two in silence, 
and then, turning sharply round and facing me, and looking 
straight into my eyes, he answered without hesitation, 
" Absolute spiritual peace." No more was said just then ; 
but we discussed the subject more fully afterwards, and 
again in England only a few weeks before his death. On 
this last occasion I reminded him of his testimony of twelve 
years before, and asked him where he stood now in relation 
to the matter with his larger experience to draw upon. 
" Oh," he replied, smiling, " I am quite a fanatic now." If 
so, he was a very gracious fanatic. He went on to explain 
that what to him at first had been a sense of relief and 
gladness in finding his proper spiritual home had now 
become an all-absorbing enthusiasm and devotion ; he 
lived for nothing else. Alas, he always impressed me as 
living too vehemently ; he was for ever going full steam 
ahead. At another time he remarked to me very impres- 
sively when speaking of the same subject, " No man living 
can understand the Catholic Church, she is so rich, so 
wonderful, so many-sided, so supernatural. You ask me 
to explain the unexplainable in attempting to analyse her 
life and power. I understand her less to-day than I 
thought I did when she first drew me to her heart, but I 
love her infinitely more." He was too courteous to press 
anyone on the subject of religious belief, but he often told 
me I should end by becoming a Catholic myself ; in fact, 
he declared I was one already by temperament. I have 
frequently wondered whether it was this temperamental 
affinity which drew us to each other despite the wide 
differences of intellectual outlook. For I must admit that 
Mgr. Benson never impressed me as having any real 
reasons for being a Catholic ; he just went over because he 
must, and not, so far as I could judge, from any compel- 
ling intellectual motive. I am not saying that his conver- 
sion was any the less sound because of that ; to make the 
great issues of life turn solely upon argument is surely a very 


futile proceeding ; but, unless I am utterly mistaken, the 
intellect played almost no part in the tremendous decision 
which led him to submit to Rome. His mind struck me 
as quick rather than profound, ardent and eager rather 
than original or very penetrating. I think he would have 
acknowledged this, for he more than once quoted to me 
our Lord's saying about the divine mysteries hidden from 
the wise and revealed to babes. His ignorance on Biblical 
criticism was somewhat abysmal, even startlingly so ; in 
fact, our conversations have led me to infer that his read- 
ing was never very thorough in anything. He had a creative 
genius of his own and a power of assimilating what he 
wanted, but never of study for study's sake. . . . — Yours 
very truly, R. J. Campbell. 

Mr. Campbell, in a sermon spoken from the City 
Temple pulpit, offered a warm tribute to Mgr. Benson's 

Benson made the usual excursions with these friends; 
one was to Tusculum. 

You should have just heard my High Talk ; Poetry 
and Civilisation, and Life and Being ; and I played 
absurd games, Fizz and Buzz, with the children, and we 
told stories round. Also I told an enormous story in 
the theatre, about an old Roman population who had 
escaped at the Gothic invasion, and two boys and a girl 
who found their way to them by a subterranean passage. 
And I also descended a well by a rope, with the boy. 
When we got back I drove solemnly in a victoria with 
the girl, and she told me all about her hat and how 
much it cost, and that it was Parisian. She is aged ten ; 
and we went to another awful crush — Lor ! But we 
had a heavenly day ; with two carabineers to guard us 
from brigands ; and the blue Sabine Hills, and the sea, 
and the violets !!!...! am degenerating into a quacker 
at tea-tables, and shall probably play lawn-tennis in a 
black flannel shirt when I get home again. 

He goes to Ostia, and attends children's balls, " all in 
perukes, and powder, and patches, and swords," but still 
finds children's parties odd " on Sunday." The Villa 

IN ROME 327 

d'Este enchants him ; but " yesterday there was a crush, 

making a noise like a menagerie, at the 's here, who 

have taken an entire palace — and there were five cardinals, 
and monsignori like the sand of the sea — and everybody 
drank champagne at 5 p.m." Again, he goes to Anzio, 
" as usual the only ecclesiastic ! as I went out and sat 
on the ruins of Nero's villa, built into this sea, with a 
sea and sky like turquoise." 

The rather bitter fruit of this tree of most imperfect 
knowledge is set out for our consumption in the first 
pages of Initiation. There are in this, I would emphasize, 
no serious caricatures, and no deliberate studies of real 
" cases." However, the picture, for instance, of the 
Marchioness Daly is unkind. It is true to type ; but we 
know how cruelly, though tacitly, portrait-painters, if 
such their desire, can mock. Her " under-current of 
acidity," her " peevish delight in discerning, and thrust- 
ing a pin through, little cracks and holes in reputations " ; 
her reputed conversations with the Secretary of State, 
in which that prelate, it appeared, took her advice in 
every particular, and begged that he might have the 
advantage of it always in the future, are told of barely 
with a smile, certainly with no genial laugh. You will 
prefer the wealthy American, Mrs. Hecker, "one blaze 
of intelligence," hitting at once on all the right points 
in what she looked at, and on the right epithets for 
describing them ; contemplating the Catacombs " in a 
kind of ecstasy of intelligence," and finding that " this 
is all too lovely — so truly Catholic ; and, Sir Nevill, you 
make it just complete. You stand for . . . England, 
you know, and the feudal system . . . and here's the 
Trappist monk, to take us back to Silence. We're all 
here — a microcosm, you might say. But what I want 


to know is, What does all this say to me ? " — (She waved 
an admirably gloved hand round the tangled garden 
wilderness) — " What is its message to me right now ? 
What am I to take away with me that I hadn't before ? " 
She "always saw the dramatic element a shade quicker 
than anyone else," and in that resembles Benson himself, 
and perhaps that was one reason why he liked her, 
though he found her explicit statements a trifle nickel- 
plated for his taste. Her husband, "attentive and trim," 
was as negligible as the anxious Marquis ; but he has 
his reality, as have the grave, magnificent cardinals, 
Daniels in whose den Nevill found himself a lion ; the 
Italian priest, very recollected and well-bred, like "a 
Guardsman who has become a seminarian " ; the Princess 
Mareschi, small, faded, shabby, the friend of cardinals, 
blackest of the black, of an unmistakable dignity, the 
replica, in Italian disguise, " of unmarried Evangelical 
daughters and sisters of ancient English dukes ; only 
she was a Catholic, and talked four languages with equal 
ease, and they but one." With all these folk Nevill makes 
the excursions Benson made, to Frascati, to St. Callixtus, 
up to the Pincian. With Benson, he makes certain 
reflections proper to Rome, and, first and foremost, upon 
the unspanned gulf between two rival camps, clergy and 
laity. . . . 

But if you would see a page on which Benson's own 
beliefs are more truly grouped and correlated than else- 
where, you must turn to the first visit of the English 
tourists to the Pincian, in The Coward. They look through 
the sunset across Rome, and the ancient and mediaeval 
and modern cities are visible, not alone in the motley crowd 
that throngs them, but in actual bricks and mortar stretch- 
ing in all directions, broken by masses of high buildings, 

IN ROME 329 

such as Capitol and palazzo and hotel, or fine shafts of 
obelisk or column or chimney, by campaniles and domes 
innumerable, but crowned irrevocably by St. Peter's 
cupola. A very powerful sense of mysticism, and a fine 
grasp of the massive periods of history, seen in due 
perspective, are revealed in all this page, and once more, 
irresistibly, the sacramental, incarnational value of Rome 
displays itself; and Benson knows, and even the half- 
awakened Etonian, Valentine, can feel, that somehow 
before him lies all the concentrated Christianity of the past 
and all the promise of an unfailing future. 

Benson had not been a week in Rome before he began 
to make arrangements for his future. On November 7th he 
writes that he has visited the Archbishop (now Cardinal 
Archbishop) of Westminster, who of course could not 
commit himself nor his superiors to any promise of speedy 
ordination, while the general impression was, that two 
years at least must elapse before it could be given, and 
that the tonsure itself must not be expected before Christ- 
mas. Hugh looks forward to receiving it from the Bishop 
of Southwark as soon as he is appointed. By December 
he is revising his hopes. A suggestion has been made that 
not England, but America, should be his chosen field of 
work. This day-dream occupied him some three months. 

On December 17th his mother writes : 

As to America, the thought of it attracts me, for you, 
very much. It would be such a new field, so full of 
life — and apparently, need — and the Church seems so 
alive there in a full and most large and reasonable way. 
Tell me every point as it comes to you. 

On the 27th he answers : 

The American is continually at me about going out 
there. But I think I should be too appallingly homesick ; 


but the work there sounds immensely attractive. It is 
quite odd how laymen entreat me not to go into re- 
ligion ; they say that secular priests in England are quite 
hopeless, and that every respectable person goes into 
religion nowadays — especially to the Benedictines. 

And on January 3rd he returns to the subject : 

Now, what do you think about America, really and 
truly ? It is rather growing on me. Not that I have 
anything but horror at the thought of leaving England ; 
but that exactly two things that I can do less inefficiently than 
other things — viz. mission preaching and literary work 
(editing of a Catholic newspaper) — are what are offered 
me. It would only mean binding myself for probably 
not less than three years ; ordination next Christmas, 
and a month or two's holiday each summer if I wished 
it. But it would be extraordinarily expensive coming 
to England, and I probably could not do it every year. 
There is really a good chance of several here accepting 
it. If you said No, I shouldn't in the least feel you were 
standing in my way, but that that was a "leading." I 
am perfectly willing to be pushed about by Divine Provi- 
dence ; and the thing that pushes hardest will win ; and 
I shall be perfectly content. Personally I still feel that 
homesickness will simply incapacitate me. 

His mother replied from Tremans on January 7th that 
she won't say No about America. " Your own principles 
of decision which you gave me one day — of thinking— of 
praying — of fixing a time and putting it away — all come 
in well here." She urges that homesickness may wane, 
once he is in America. "They say, with what truth I do 
not know, that there is often not enough work for secular 
priests in England." America is suited to him ; he could 
get back — in fact she could not bear that he should not do 
so. " But I will try with both hands and my whole heart 
to see as far as I can what is the noblest and fullest thing 
you can do. You can't make such a decision in a moment. 

IN ROME 331 

and things always come to guide one before it has to be 
finally made." 

What moved him especially was what in his unfocused 
view he took for the mistaken attitude of authorities 
towards instructed converts. 

Already on November 20 he had written : 

All that I want to do is to say Mass and make sermons 
and preach and deal with people ; and all that I am 
allowed to do is to come out here and read theology that 
I know already, and learn colloquial Latin and go through 
a number of social acts and ecclesiastical functions ! But 
perhaps they know best. 

Undoubtedly they knew best ! Even at the time, 
Hugh Benson knew they did. At the risk of seeming 
laborious, pedantic, and lacking in all humour, I would 
insist that Hugh Benson talked — when he felt none 
would misunderstand him — far more than he really meant. 
Of course he felt the curb, as do all young men full of 
eagerness to begin. As for theology, he recognised long 
after his extra year, even, at Cambridge, how sketchy was 
his knowledge of most of its technicalities ; as for the 
long wait — well, it is not his disgrace that he was tempted 
to resent it, but his pride that he so seldom yielded. 

His sister wrote, with insight almost, I feel, unparalleled 
in this correspondence, and at an hour when he was 
hesitating about the more rudimentary features of his 
future, and wondering whether, as a lay oblate of some 
religious house (had he been reading his favourite Huys- 
mans' L'Oblat?) he could devote himself wholly to literary 

I am awfully interested about your plans. I don't 
want you to be an oblate doing literary work. And O 
don't take any place which might lead to this. The 
reasons are partly special, and partly general — special, 


that surely you must be a priest ; general, that I don't 
think that as a family even as regards literary work there 
is sufficient profundity to enable anyone safely to do 

that only. I always felt this about , and though I 

can't help thinking your gift is perhaps greater, yet I 
don't believe in any case the well is deep enough not 
to need constant replenishment, otherwise it will either run 
dry or thin. Symbolism breaks down. ... I think there 
is less originality than power of assimilation of material 
and reproduction in a new form. 

On November 29 he has learnt with horror of a movement 
to get the ex-Anglican clergy three years' training ; so he 
feels that even if he does get two, he will be satisfied. 
For consolation he has " taken to a sort of mild smoking ; 
it really became almost necessary — but I never smoke 
more than three [cigarettes] a day so far, and often none 
at all. So I think I am cured." 

At this moment, then, his personal feelings crystallised 
themselves in tirades against the seminary system, as, 
judging from what he considered its results, it displayed 
itself. These results he considered " hopeless " — men who 
can talk ceremonial and casuistry and nothing else. 

On December 6 he wrote thus : 

One is slowly sorting impressions now, and they 
are instructive. Will it bore you to hear them ? 

(i) Everyone, priests and all, first of all have an 
intense faith and realisation of the supernatural, and 
express it perfectly frankly in words and behaviour — 
quite naturally and devoutly. 

(2) They are also, therefore, flippant very often. It 
is the seamy side of faith. They make jokes that make 
one's hair stand on end. But they do it, not because 
they don't, but because they do believe so intensely. 

(3) They are rather stupid. That is the fault of the 
seminary system ; it teaches them their business and 
their faith admirably, but it teaches them nothing else 
at all. But when, as in the case of great directors, they 
do know human nature, they know it tar better than any- 

IN ROME 333 

one else in the world. If I had the training of a boy for 
the priesthood, I would first shelter him entirely with a 
great deal of attractive religion, appealing to his heart, 
and dogmatic religion, appealing to his intellect, till he 
was fourteen. Then I would send him to Eton or Win- 
chester till he was eighteen,^ then to a seminary for a 
year or two, then to a university, Oxford or Cambridge, till 
he was twenty-four, then to a seminary again for three 
years. And I believe he would be a splendid priest after 
that. If I had to cut anything out of the course, I would 
cut out the public school. 

His letter of December 20 was, one may say, frankly 
bitter on this subject : 

One also finds here the most amazing deference for 
priests. At last I have learnt that when I want to put 
forward an unpopular view, one can always gild the pill 
by saying, " A priest said to me the other day. . . ." Here 
one can get priests in support of any tolerable opinion, 
and one can generally quote them. It is like the coinage : 
one must have the stamp, and then it is all right. 

My private coach here is a popular preacher. I could 
not understand him until I learnt that ; and now I sit 
and listen, and it is excellent stuff. He is very strongly 
on our (converts') side, or against conservatism in the 
authorities, and in plotting with Father Whitmee here 

to get us ordained as quickly as possible. Mr. here 

has a lovely phrase, a " piece." A " piece " is a kind 
of formality which one has "to say" in order to pass 
muster. If one will " say the pieces," one is all right — 
e.g. if one will say that of course animals are not 
"rational," one can then say what one likes, almost, as 
to their immortality and reason. And apparently no one 
seems to see that the entire question is begged as to 
what the word "rational" means, as I fancy there is 
no definition of it that will really exhaust it. And that 
system runs through everything. They require verbal 
conformity ; and in all questions which are matters of 
opinion (not of faith) one must observe the " pieces," 
and then one can say what one likes. There is extra- 
ordinary freedom really. And then the other tremendous 

I Dick YoUand, in The Sentimentalists, goes to Winchester. 


watchword is the word " edifying." " AH things are 
lawful for me, but all are not expedient." Theatres, 
bicycling out here, going out without a cassock, &c., are 
not " edifying." 

Immediately upon this you must read that chapter in 
the Papers of a Pariah which deals directly with the 
Catholic priest as a seminary product. It is called "A 
Father in God," and professes, of course, to be an outside 
view of a parish priest, as taken by a thoughtful, unpre- 
judiced, in fact sympathetic agnostic. There is excellent 
comedy in the first pages, where Father Thorpe deals 
firmly with the wealthy Mrs. Johnson, a woman who 
would not "bear domineering from even an archangel," 
and who was so important in her sphere that, when she 
dined with the banker, she drove both to and from his resi- 
dence in a closed fly. . . . The priest's voice, " clear and 
peevish," was heard to say nothing but " My dear child, 
don't talk such nonsense," and Mrs. Johnson had nothing 
to answer save "Very well. Father, if you think so." 
And even this was in a tone both "bland and grateful." 
Benson's whole point is that a priest is, as he is intended 
to be and is accepted as being, a parent, with his moods 
and manners, but not, anyhow, a lawyer, who must be 
polite, nor a tradesman, who must be subservient. As 
representative to his flock of God, his authority is absolute, 
always recognised, very circumscribed. Unofficially, how- 
ever, yet in direct consequence of his office, his voice is 
listened to deferentially in departments widely other than 
the theological. And "how strange it is that this state 
of affairs should be brought about through the seminary 
teaching." What Englishmen want, say the dignitaries 
of the Establishment, are men of the world, university 
men, gentlemen, public-school men — no others need 

IN ROME 335 

apply. Isolation, prayer, specialised study, lack of female 
society, produce, it is urged, an utterly incompetent type, 
sacerdotally correct, but inadequate to equal dealings 
with its fellow-men. 

Yet precisely the opposite appears to be the case. If 
I wish to smoke my pipe with a congenial clergyman, or 
to hear reasonable conversation on topics of the day, or 
to learn how to deal with a refractory child, or to discuss 
the advisability of attending a certain race meeting ; or if, 
on the other hand, I need a little brisk consolation, or 
have an unpleasant secret to reveal, or an inveterate habit 
to overcome, or a complicated moral problem to unravel, 
I should not dream of stepping across to the rectory or to 
the new vicarage of St. Symphorosa . . .^ (but) I should 
unhesitatingly take my hat and go across to the popish 
presbytery, where I should find a man who had spent ten 
years of his youth in a rigid seminary, but who somehow 
had emerged from it a man of the world in the best sense, 
neither a large-hearted bully nor a spiritual hypochondriac ; 
one who will neither shout at me nor shrink from me, who 
will possibly drop his aspirates and be entirely ignorant 
of literature and art, but who will yet listen to what I have 
to say, understand me when I say it, and give me excellent 

. . . Yes, yes ; the Catholic Church is amazingly 
adroit ; she has managed to produce grapes from thorns, 
and figs from thistles, and men of the world from semin- 
aries. I have not an idea how she does it, unless her own 
explanation of it is true — which is that the knowledge of 
God is the short cut to knowledge of man, that time spent 
in prayer is the most economical investment of a working 
hour, and that meditation on supernatural mysteries and 
familiarity with supernatural things confer an insight into 
ordinary affairs of common life that can be obtained in no 
other way — unless once more Christ's words are to be 
taken literally, not metaphorically, and that when He said 

^ I will not reproduce the vignettes of the warm-hearted, "thumping" rector 
and the mortified vicar, into whose pale ear you are invited to open your grief in 
his oak -lined vestry on next Saturday. Benson owned that his "agnostic" had 
hard luck in his experience of Anglican clergymen ; and the point is, not in what 
he denounced in other systems, but in the fact that he learnt radically to revise 
his own early views of the results of seminary training. 


that those who for His sake renounced wives and children 
and brethren and lands should find themselves treated as 
husbands and fathers and brothers in their turn, that 
they who lost their life should find it, that they who took 
the lowest place should presently stand in the highest, 
and that the meek and the peacemakers should inherit the 
earth, be called the children of God, shine out as the light 
of the world, and be set upon a high hill, a city that cannot 
be hid. 

Hugh was, however, slightly encouraged by receiving, 
at this time, a permission, " stamped all over with cardi- 
nals' hats and tiaras," to read books upon the Index; " Lt'dri," 
it stated, " e giornali dalla S. Sede proibiti, a scopo di con- 
futarne gli errori." 

" So," he rather rashly sums up, " I needn't bother 
now, but can read anything." 

However, America still beckoned him. 

January lo. 

. . . America seems wholly different. The priest who 
has asked me to come is continually saying, "We want 
men like you. We know you know your faith ; and 
we want people who can deal with Protestants — we 
haven't got any; you would simply sweep them into the 
Church." And he proposes to form a Mission Society, 

with Father and myself as the nucleus,^ and give us 

a free hand to go where we like, and do what we like, and 
use all our old methods. It is very tempting ; and the 
parochial people will be given an independent parish at 
once, if they like it, and not be stuck down as junior curates 
under some silly old man. 

If I go, I shall probably live at the Cathedral at the 
Archbishop's house, take over the newspaper at once, 
and go, travelling off all over the place, preaching. Good- 
ness me ! 

The Archbishop looks a splendid person from his 
photograph, 6 feet 2 inches tall, very large and beaming, 
a convert himself, with a solid face like a butler, and 
enormously popular with everybody. 

* See Vol. II., p. 209, The Motor Mission, 

IN ROME 337 

Of course the next thing is to wait to hear what he 
says. . . . 

His mother felt half enthusiastic about America. At 
least it was not so terribly far off as India. . . . But these 
speculations, she urged on Hugh, were " of the earth, 
earthy." What she wanted was his " entire best." 

The pendulum, he announced on January i8, was swing- 
ing away from America. " However, we can just wait and 
go along, and expect to be pushed violently by Divine 
Providence at the proper time. I am delighted you think 
as you do. It straightens things out." 

Mrs. Benson suggested a final home in England, after 
an interlude of America, but, frankly, America is now 
eclipsed for Hugh by the delightful gossip that, quite in- 
dependently of himself, a " Jesuit plot " is being hatched 
to hasten his ordination and to keep him in England. The 
fancy is too fascinating to be lightly disregarded. 

January 23. 

Do you think it is possible ? We may be violently 
exaggerating it, but I should not be at all surprised if it 
was true. It is great fun, and we are being bland and 
innocent and uncommunicative . . . but, at any rate, it is 
extremely nice countermining." 

Moreover, a suggestion has been made that he should 
go back to Cambridge, and live "with the clergyman 
who looks after the undergraduates, doing parochial and 
preaching work in the Cathedral." " But," he adds, " our 
relationships would be very odd with people." 

Mrs. Benson, enchanted by the Jesuit plot, none the 
less could not feel favourable to the definite suggestion of 

Cambridge — I don't seem to take to it for the present. 
I mean, I think you would be in a much better position 
I Y 


to work there after a longer time, and when you were, so 
to say, on a solid experienced basis. At present I think it 
would put you in an extremely difficult and disagreeable 
position, and would be scarcely a fair thing to do, scarcely 
what you would find you could do, if it came nearer, unless 
it was laid upon you as an absolute duty. 

However, by January 30, yet another suggestion had 
been made. Benson was inclined to grasp at anything 
which should get him away from Rome. 

He goes to see the Bishop of Northampton, who " is 
a nice old man," but 

January 30. 

proposed my going to Oscott (as a kind of fifth-form 
boy) when I said that Rome did not seem to be doing me 
much good, which shows that his grasp of the situation 
was not what it might be. I don't think we shall come 
back for another year if we don't go to America, or get 
ordination somehow. I shall try to look out for a religious 
house in England where I can go and live and work, but 
I shall let them clearly know that I propose to do literary 
work there, as well as theology. 

On February 6 he writes that a prelate has written 
from America, holding out high prospects : 

ordination by Christmas, and what work we like. But 
people are beginning to write and say that we must come 
to England ; that we are " wanted " ; that it will be a 
complete misapplication of energy to go to Mission work 
which others can do, and leave undone the work which 
we are especially fitted to do, and so on, and so on. So 
we shall wait to see what the authorities do, and whether 
it is more than words. 

Moreover, his eye is growing accustomed to a new and 
more synoptic outlook over his studies. 

" I am getting through a quantity of solid theology. 
My goodness ! The scheme of it all is tremendous ; every 
possible objection dealt with 1 " 

IN ROME 339 

However, it is this apologetic view of theology which 
still is mainly his : the independent prospect over the 
spiritual world, with its schemes and systems of ordered 
thought and action, and the tremendous organisation and 
supernatural plan, which a theologian, serene and unruffled 
by any thought of attack or defence, can contemplate, did 
not belong to him, nor was it ever, save in a circumscribed 
area of mystical asceticism, thoroughly appreciated by him. 

A new scheme, he adds, however, on February 7, had 
germinated in the fertile brains of Hugh and of his friends. 
The spirit of Newman still hovered over the paths of recent 
convert-clerics out in Rome, and it was hinted 

that we — i.e. about half a dozen converts — should start 

an " Oratory " at B . It is quite extraordinary how 

we should fit in ; we have two missionaries, two preachers, 
a ceremonialist, a parish priest, an organiser. Really, we 
should be able to do a lot. But it is only the vaguest of 
ideas so far. Another comfort would be that we should all 
be respectably educated ; that no bishop could interfere, 
only the Pope ; that we should have an entire veto against 
new applicants we did not like. I believe we shall draw a lot 
of others like ourselves. So there are a good many alter- 
natives. We should begin with a tin church and work- 
men's cottages : the life is very like Mirfield. An Oratorian 
here suggested it. Each " Oratory," by the way, is abso- 
lutely independent of all others, and under the Pope direct, 
without any " General " of the Order. [. . .] 

P.S. — The " Oratory " would mean that I could continue 
to write as much as I liked, and preach sermons, and have 
an evangelical prayer meeting every week. 

On February 14 he says that plans are standing still. 
But Father Talbot has explained to them the Oratorian 

scheme. B is " the most inoffensive place," he feels, 

that he could start in, as he never preached there. The 
vision of tin chapel and cottages melts into that of a 


basilica. " It would be gorgeous, with gilding and mosaics." 
Names follow of possible associates. 

They are quite delightful^ the most sensible old Catholics 
we have met yet, and extremely pious, and anxious for 
proper work, and not this eternal dawdling about after 
"careers." I loathe that word. Everybody is told to 
" make a career," which means that ultimately if you 
dawdle and intrigue enough and entirely damn your soul, 
you get a small piece of purple to wear in your collar. 
Nothing will induce me to make a career. 

He sums up : 

The Oratory has for it these advantages : " (i) The 
work we can do. (2) One will have no work that one can't 
do; clubs, music, ceremonial, finance, all done by others. 
(3) Fixity of tenure ; no bishop can turn us out. (4) 
Respectably educated people to do with, and no danger of 
cads. The disadvantages are very few : (i) more difificult 
to go into * religion ' afterwards ; (2) finance ; (3) imme- 
diate ordination." 

But on February 21 he can write that 

an ambassador is on his way to Cardinal Respighi "to 

say a few plain words about Mr. and me, or rather 

not very plain, as (he) said he would have to begin a 
long way from the subject, and allude to it in a paren- 
thesis." [A dispensation for swift ordination was to be 
asked for ; the City set on a Hill was to be presented as 
credentials.] " I really daren't ask what he is going to say, 
as I am pretty certain that he will colour his story, and I 
should have to correct him. They are funny people ! " 

Further intercessors were invoked next week, but the 
whole scheme was regarded as a mere alternative to 

By March 6, the Cardinal had expressed himself " most 
favourable," and ordination seemed probable in the summer. 
A consequence would be " a little more reading in Moral 

IN ROME 341 

Theology, in England or in Rome, and London as a pro- 
bable destination." 

It is the most unique and exceptional thing — unheard 
of . . . very tremendous, and almost frightening. It will 
mean for me the priesthood before I have been a year in 
the Church ! and everybody else, since the world began, 
has been at least two. 

Probable jealousies, however, darken the horizon else so 
brilliant. Next day a note followed, saying that the Pope's 
answer had been perfectly favourable, and all that now 
was needed was to be shifted to the Westminster arch- 
diocese. Ordination seemed due in May or June, and 
minor orders before Easter. 

" This," he wrote with an ecstatic lack of accuracy, " is 
simply a unique event in the entire history of Holy Church, 
and I tremble to think of the row that will ensue. But we 
are keeping it perfectly quiet until we have the last word 
from the Archbishop. So please do not let even a sus- 
picion come if you are asked anything about me — and I 
know your powers of prevarication. Lor ! — Ever yours in 
a hurry, R. H. B." 

"One thing," Mrs. Benson wisely wrote, "I trust you 
won't do : receive minor orders before your ordination in 
May or June is absolutely and definitely promised and 
arranged, and not only * favourably considered.' " 

Rosy visions transfigure the letter of March 13. The 
Pope is '* * happy ' (lieto — laetus) " to help. The whole has 
taken place, this player at plots declares, " so entirely, really, 
apart from our own efforts " that it must certainly be " all 
right." Everyone says the Archbishop will be delighted. 
Father Buckler suggests the Cathedral as headquarters. 
A lot of outside work, missions, retreats, with " Roman 
faculties " for hearing ubiquitous confessions, make a 
picture which appeals to him. Tonsure, therefore, at 


Easter ? Subdiaconate in April, and diaconate and priest- 
hood in May ? Why not ? " Then I shall toil, if necessary, 
for a month or so at casuistry." 

With the imminence of reality, the more fantastic 
pleasures of his game began to lose their savour. Hugh 
was sobered, and seriously sought to see whether self had 
been responsible for these developments. Again he argues 
(March 19) that "this has all descended so amazingly from 
the blue that I have no sort of doubt that it is all right, 
and that these things have been arranged by Them as is 
above." And on March 26 he is seeing that "probably 
after ordination it will be better if I, at least, don't do too 
much active work all at once." His options are : " (i) Come 
out here again and get a doctorate. That apparently 
would not be at all difficult, and might be well worth 
having in future to quiet silly people who say it is impos- 
sible for a recent convert to know theology. (2) Go into 
a religious house — Downside, with the Benedictines, or 
Woodchester, with the Dominicans, for a year or so. This 
I should love. (3) Go to Westminster Cathedral and sit 
quiet." The doctorate appeals to him ; Rome, not. Any- 
how, he is determined to refuse Father Whitmee's invitation 
to preach the next Lent to English-speaking Catholics at 
San Silvestro. 

His mother likes the idea of a religious house ; she feels 
that in the less ordered life he foresees for himself at 
Westminster, he would be " frittered without having real 
work." He probably felt the same. However, the papers 
had arrived by Easter Day ; the examination for minor 
orders and subdiaconate together was to be on Tuesday 
in Low Week by special privilege, and in English. He 
was not nervous. At " a short preliminary test " on Friday 
his coach " threw down the book after thirty-five minutes 

IN ROME 343 

and said, ' You know it all/ which I could have told him 
before he began." The examination was, in fact, "not 
very formidable. I stood opposite an Italian professor, 
a Dominican, and the professor (who is my own coach) 
asked me questions at an extraordinary pace in English 
for a quarter of an hour, which I answered at the same 

At this point all more distant interests fade behind the 
immediate emotions of an ordination promised " presto, 
presto," yet ever, it would seem, postponed.^ 

"After all," he writes on May i, " I didn't get minor 
orders to-day. The amazing people at the Vicariate, after 
telling me six weeks ago that ' all the papers had come,' 
told me on Friday that I had to have certificates of baptism 
and confirmation and one or two other things ! So we 
have written furiously to England. But we hope, in spite 
of it, to go into retreat to-morrow (though we can't be sure 
till to-morrow morning), and that I shall have minor orders 
in about ten days, and the subdiaconate a day or two later." 

" O Hugh 1 " his mother wrote on May 6. "The Italian 
mind ! They are God's creation, I know, but I have to 
remind myself of it now and again, when they cut across 
my English expectations. There ! I have done ! it is 
just possible that you may know your own business." 

A week later, nothing has happened ; but the affair " is 
in the hands of a priest who understands the Vicariate, and 
it is going swimmingly." 

^ Not that Hugh was painfully absorbed in ordination worries. It was at 
this time that he wrote to Mr. A. C. Benson : 

Alay 9, 1904. 

I read Chesterton's "Watts" about the same time [as your "Tennyson"], 
and I liked it rather — at least parts of it were excellent, but there was a trifle 
too much Chesterton. It was like a personally conducted tour ; instead of, as in 
your book, looking at something through excellent spectacles that some one 
else has made. His book made me feel that he was painfully clever — while 
yours made me feel I was. 


In fact, he did 

receive tonsure and minor orders, "strictly against all pre- 
cedent, all at once, on Ascension Day. Generally that 
takes fifteen hours in Rome — three ordinations, each from 
7 to 12.30, and mine took two hours. And I got them 
from a proper Englishman, Archbishop Stonor. I only 
heard for certain the day before. 

The examination for diaconate and priesthood seemed 
due for Tuesday, and retreat previous to the subdiaconate 
was for Wednesday. By May 21 all papers had arrived, 
all examinations had been passed. Hugh migrated to the 
Aventine, and established himself for retreat in the Bene- 
dictine monastery of Sant' Anselmo. That superb building, 
due chiefly to the impulse and generosity of Leo XIII, 
scarcely asks that you should climb its campanile if you 
would enjoy one of Rome's grandest views. 

" Hinc septem dominos uidere coUes 
Et totam licet aestimare Romam." 

Martial was sitting on the Janiculum when he wrote 
that, and his verses are still there to remind the passer-by. 
Still, on those slopes, Garibaldi dominates you ; the Eternal 
Rome is sunk somewhat and eclipsed behind the wooded 
shoulder of the hill ; from Sant' Anselmo's balconies every- 
thing is yours. All Rome, and all the Romes, are there for 
you to " reckon up." At Hugh's feet almost, was the Circus 
Maximus, and beyond it the incomparable arcading of 
imperial palaces on the Palatine. Churches of bewildering 
antiquity, and charged with innumerable memories, rose 
above trees or roofs. Sta. Sabina, Sta. Prisca in Aventino, 
Sant' Alessio nearer still, and, visible in the hollow, the 
exquisite campanile of Sta. Maria in Cosmedin, and just 
beyond, Newman's titular church, San Giorgio in Velabro. 
The yellow river, at the foot of the hill to the east, linked 

IN ROME 345 

the centuries together, and between the limits of St. Peter's, 
the cypress ridge upon the Pincian ridge, the long 
yellow fagade of the Quirinal, the little towers of Sta. Maria 
Maggiore, and again, the huge Lateran, was clasped all 
that multitudinous Rome which stood for quintessence of 
all history. Therefore he did not choose to eliminate from 
memory the atrocities of modern Roman life — the Palazzo 
di Giustizia that crushes out St. Peter's, the Monument that 
dwarfs the Capitol, and the aluminium dome of the Jewish 
Synagogue, a malapert and purely hideous parvenu. He had 
no right to refuse to see what the world he was approach- 
ing might contain. 1 

To Sant' Anselmo, where her son was preparing himself 
for the Roman priesthood, Mrs. Benson wrote : 

Tremans, May 19. 

Well, you know my heart's desire ! — that your service of 
Christ may be more and more full and beautiful and holy. 
If it could only have been with us, well. If it must be in 
another regiment, well still, if God's will be better served 
so. The Royal Ensign waves over us both. 

All your letters [she continues] are so delicate, so just 
you yourself, and this regular correspondence makes just 
the whole difference. I have you, and your life, and I am 
sure you have me and mine — us and ours. 

S. Anselmo, Monte Aventino, 
Rome, May 21, 1904. 

My dear Mamma, — Here I am in retreat, and im- 
mensely pleased. . . . We came here on Thursday evening — 
such a heavenly place — right up above Rome, with great 
cloisters and courts, and flowers and ilexes and birds, a 
blazing blue sky, and a tall abbey-church. We arrange 
our days exactly as we like, but as a matter of fact I get up 
about 5.30, go to Mass at 6, and breakfast at 7 ; then 

^ That this is no fantasia of the imagination, but that Benson really felt these 
things, I would argue from the page in The Coward already alluded to, where, 
viewing Rome from the opposite side to Sant' Anselmo, he sees in it nothing less 
than a continuing of the Incarnation. 


dawdle a little and read and smoke a cigarette while my 
room is done. Then meditation (there are no addresses of 
any kind), and then write and read and so on till about 11.30, 
when I go and pray again. Then dinner at 12, siesta 
afterwards, walk in garden or an ilex avenue ; tea with an 
English abbot at 4.30, then go about and meditate on 
anything, and supper at 7.30 ; and bed about 10. A really 
tranquil, peaceable day ; and I am loving every minute of 
it. It lasts ten days. We talk a little, but not very much 
— and meals are nearly always silent. 

He foresees the priesthood only a month ahead. After 
a few days for saying Mass '' at shrines," he proposes to 
" tear home at once." (To India he wrote that in June he 
should "return to England like a bullet from a gun; and 
soak myself again in lawns and trees and puddly roads and 
villages.") Meanwhile, 

The Benedictines are really wonderful — so extraordin- 
arily peaceful. They never fuss one, and radiate a sort 
of tranquillity ; they walk and talk very slowly ; and their 
ceremonial is amazing, with very deliberate, clear singing. 
We have just had a perfectly splendid vespers, with the 
Abbot Primate in cope and mitre — all very deliberate and 
quiet. Oh dear ! I wonder whether Westminster Abbey 
will ever see it again ! 

On May 28 he was ordained subdeacon in the Lateran 
by Cardinal Respighi, the Vicar-General, with some 
hundred others. 

" Such sights and sounds," he writes to Mrs. Benson. . . . 
" I am extraordinarily pleased to be a subdeacon at last ; 
and the office is not a burden, and I do not think will be ; 
it is wonderfully beautiful. Our retreat was almost perfect ; 
the one flaw was the suspense, as we had to spend Friday 
in telephoning and interviewing to make certain of the 
next day. We are being very sharp with the authorities, 
and have wearied them out like the Unjust Judge, and they 
will give us anything we ask for, I think. They will have 
to amend their proverb, and say ' Time is made for slaves 
and Britons.' " 

IN ROME 347 

He is, meanwhile, back at San Silvestro, the heat being 
fearful, all shutters closed, the courtyard full of swooping, 
crying swifts. The green parrot nearly went off its head 
with joy at seeing him again, and the cat too was " pleased 
with him," and clawed his " fish all during supper ; [and 
ate] the whole of the head and outlying parts of a sole, 
except the backbone." 

The diaconate was for Sunday, June 5, and was given 
in the interior chapel of San Silvestro. The weather had, 
anyhow, necessitated "retreat." Hugh had sat gasping, 
in pyjamas, a hot, pale sky glaring through a canework 
blind that made the trees and roof and sky look like bad 
sampler-work. All the ceremony was extremely quiet; 
"no music, no congregation." "Oh dear! how very 
strange it all is ! But I needn't say how happy I am." * 

His mother had already written to him : 

I pray God to bless, with what fullness of desire it is 
impossible to say, this taking up again of your Dedication, 
this renewal of your priesthood in the Church of God. 

And now that the date was practically fixed, she wrote : 

I shall pray for you just this — the words you will be hear- 
ing on Sunday. " Grant that his teaching may be a spiritual 
remedy for God's people, and the fragrance of his life a 
delight to the Church of God." 

She had studied the august ordination ritual with such 
accuracy that she knew it almost by heart ; and, under 
the spell of its wide serenity, she was able to calm one 
of his expressed fears. " I don't believe, whatever the 
service on Sunday is, that it will be 'disturbing.' You 
will be out of all that." 

^ His one grief, he confessed, was that he would never enter a theatre again. 
. . . He need not, it proved, have been so anxious. 


Hugh Benson was then ordained priest on the 12th 
June, the third Sunday after Pentecost, in the same tiny 
chapel opening out of the San Silvestro library. 

S. Silvestro, /««(5 12. 

My dear Mamma, — Well, it is just over ; and every- 
body has gone — and we are extraordinarily happy. 

Archbishop Stonor was ill, and couldn't come ; so 
Archbishop Seton, a Scotchman, thin and tall, with a very 
fine brown face, ordained us instead ; and it was all as 
simple as possible : and lasted just over the hour. Then 
everybody rushed up, and knelt down one by one to kiss 
our hands and be blessed ; then we all went down to 
breakfast about nine. There were half a dozen Englishmen, 
priests and students, who assisted, and a congregation of 
about a dozen more men, mostly laymen, with a Bene- 
dictine and a Jesuit among them. Then people began to 
give us presents. Then we all went up to our rooms and 
TALKED. Then the post came, and your letter. Thank 
you so much for it. 

For myself, I feel just normal again, and that I am 
what I am, because I couldn't imagine myself really any- 
thing else. . . . 

We failed to get leave for St. Peter's in time for to- 
morrow : so I am saying mass in St. Gregory's, where St. 
Augustine started from ; and on Tuesday in St. Priscilla's 
catacomb, where St. Peter preached ; and on Wednesday 
in St. Peter's — not at the altar of the choir — but over St. 
Peter's body ; and on Thursday, very early before starting, 
in S. Silvestro. . . . The journey will be ghastly — we leave 
at 8 A.M., and travel through that awful heat. 

By the way, I am bringing such vestments 1 old 
ones that I bought second-hand in the market, and in 
which I was ordained, all blazing with gold and flowers. 
But I shall have to leave a good deal behind me — (prepare 
Beth!) — to follow by sea, as I have accumulated such 
a lot. 

He mentions the sudden death of Abbot Raynal at 
Sant' Anselmo, and exultingly concludes : 

Best love to everyone. E. B. But I shall reach home 
almost as soon as this letter ! 

IN ROME 349 

He paid his farewell visits, then, to churches, to 
monasteries, and to the Pope, and returned to England. 

What had Rome given him ? There are elusive and 
wistful Romes, underlying the flamboyant city of whatever 
period, Romes pagan and papal, classical, mediaeval, and 
even modern, which are shy to yield their secret, and 
exact long intimacy or quite exceptional intuition on the 
part of anyone who would woo it from them. Fr. Benson, 
I think, never gave himself time to learn them ; and not 
activity, however feverish, is the way to " tear the heart " 
out of Rome. If, as the Latin poet sang, Rome made the 
universe one city, it is as true that in the city is con- 
tained a world, and worlds are hard to conquer. However, 
he went back supplied for ever and for ever with a centre 
of gravity. There never would be the slightest doubt, 
henceforward, whither the eye was to turn, whence the 
compelling voice should speak, or where the feet must 
rest. Whatever Hugh Benson else might be, he never 
now could be anything but a Roman Catholic. His 
fearless eye and relentless judgment had appraised all 
that was most natural and most human in that great 
Sacrament of Rome and Papacy ; the more did he 
exult in that manifestly Divine which there displayed itself : 
and for him, now more than ever, all history, all psychology, 
had but one adequate explanation, and this was to be found 
in the Supernatural, which, through Rome's appointed 
mediation, reached to man. 


... I will pack, and take a train, 
And get me to England once again ! 
For England's the one land, I know, 
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go ; 
And Cambridgeshire, of all England, 
The shire for Men who Understand. 

Rupert Brooke. 

The return journey from Lambeth to Cambridge via 

Rome, as Mr. Shane Leslie has called it, was soon enough 

to be accomplished, but with a halt at home. To Tremans 

Hugh Benson hurried straight from San Silvestro, happy 

to be where 

" Unkempt about those hedges blows 
An English unofficial rose ; 
And where the unregulated sun 
Slopes down to rest when day is done, 
And wakes a vague unpunctual star." 

He writes ecstatically to India on July 13 : He is 
utterly happy here at home ; he bathes ; he lives in 
flannels ; he says Mass.* There is a peacock and a dog ; 
the sun shines ; there is a breeze, and breakfast takes 
place out of doors, beneath a tree. ... He rows the 
Protestant gardener for being drunk : 

A religious interview, not magisterial ; but I hope we 
both acquitted ourselves with credit. Such a nice man ; 

1 His first Mass in England, and that on his last Corpus Christi, were said at 
the Convent of the Canonesses Regular of St. Augustine at Hayward's Heath. 
He was noted at once, the Prioress kindly tells me, for his " singular and un- 
obtrusive gentleness." 




and he only gets drunk about three times a year, and is a 
furious teetotaller in between. I have great sympathy for 
that kind of man. 

Meanwhile an Elizabethan play is in prospect, with 
the garden front of the house as scene. There is a priest- 
hunt : lights are to flash to and fro in the windows ; a 
capture is to take place on the roof. It was to represent 
an incident in Wyatt's rebellion, Thomas Wyatt's cousin 
having owned Tremans. " He walks there, head under 

And apparently, at this period, Hugh Benson still knew 
how to lounge. He wrote to the same correspondent 

The world is divided into two classes — those who like 
people, and those who like things. It has come to us as 
a good classification, at home. My mother yearns con- 
tinually for town, and loves eleven hundred people ; and 
all the rest of us love the country, and cocks and hens, 
and small events on the lawn like the dog digging a hole, 
and discuss them as if they were the pivots on which 
the world moved. 

In this interspace of unmixed happiness, he began to 
revise the proofs of By What Authority. As usual, the 
mechanical labour caused the spirit to appear evaporated 
from its pages as he read them. 

On July 23, 1904, he wrote to Mr. A. C. Benson : 

My proofs have become [begun] to arrive at last, of 
my novel. They rather give the impression of " Hardly 
had this unfortunate monarch " — and should be read in a 
head voice by a man with pince-nez. 

I have been revelling in Farrar, according to your 

^ He had an interleaved copy of Dean Farrar's Eric, or Little by Little, 
which he had illustrated. I believe there was no mood of depression, were it 
never so black, which he could not enlighten by the exquisite comedy to be 


By his brother's advice, too, the charming dedication of 
his book to Mrs. Benson, Miss M. Benson, and Miss Tait, 
assumed its present Latin. It recalls this happy space at 
home, in the company of " those Three, more than others 
dear, at whose side I wrote this book, in whose ears I read 
it, and at whose schooling I corrected it." This novel, 
both as the firstfruits of his Catholic life, and on many 
intrinsic titles, is so unique that to my thinking it deserves 
a full attention. 

In October, 1904, Dom Bede Camm finished reading 
the proofs, and persuaded Benson to alter the title Magnus 
Valde, not to be understanded of the multitude, into the 
familiar By What Authority, 

He wanted, too, an appendix which should show Isabel 
in her Bridgetine convent, for example, in Belgium. 
Benson, however, who still more than half intended her 
to marry Mr. Buxton and provide descendants who should 
people the Charles II novel, refused. 

Dom Bede has written to me concerning their united 
attempt to divest the romance of those minute historical 
flaws whose entire elimination, to judge by famous ex- 
amples in historical novelists, is all but impossible. 

We did our best, and I think that there are few in- 
accuracies that matter. It is true that almost on the first 
page I let pass a passage about " the bustle of the Brighton 
Road," which of course was a terrible anachronism in 
Elizabethan times, but none of the reviewers seem to have 
discovered it. We found it out as soon as the book was 
finished ! But no one who has not tried has any idea 
how difficult it is to make a historical romance accurate 
in detail. I remember R. H. B. telling me that he had just 

detected in those pages. It was to him more than the waters in a dry land which 
so many draw from the " Alice " books. He also had a similarly illustrated copy of 
Bishop Welldon's Gerald Eversley's Friendship, a book written, however, in 
an hour of depression and sickness, which neither claims nor possesses the 
eternal qualities of Eric, 


discovered that Scotch firs were introduced into England 
only under James I. And he had made his hero ride for 
miles under the Scotch firs in Sussex ! ^ 

The story forms itself chiefly round two characters, 
Anthony and Isabel Norris. With their gentle Puritan 
father they live in the Dower House of Great Keynes, a 
Sussex village in the rich scenery Benson knew by heart. 
The Hall is Catholic. Sir Nicholas Maxwell lives there 
with his wife and Mistress Margaret Torridon, a nun long 
since expelled from her convent ; and of his two sons, 
the elder, James, is a priest, though secretly, and the gay, 
unheeding Hubert will succeed to the estate. Now, into 
their lives religion brings a sword, and brings salvation. 
For Anthony and Isabel, by separate paths, will come to 
Rome — Isabel, just as her lover Hubert has brought him- 
self to fancy that the religion of " all good sea-dogs " (for 
he goes a-buccaneering), of the Queen's Grace, and, above 
all, of Isabel, is true, and embraces the Reform. 

The tale can be read in different ways. 

Legitimately, if you will, you may follow it as Hugh's 
own history. " You know," his mother wrote, " OF course 
you are Anthony. Only, I cannot have you racked ! " 
Anthony passes from the horses and dogs and hawks of 
his home to Cambridge, careless yet and unawakened. 
" He represents," wrote Benson in his notes, "the external ; 
his inner life develops late ; cetat. 23." " Ecclesiast.," he 
adds, abbreviating, "develops at Cambridge." It was 
there, he means, that the vision of a Church, unguessed in 
the individualist Puritanism of his home, first dawned for 
him. (Not such was Hugh's home ; still it was at Cam- 

* There were one or two other slips : Anthony before Elizabeth has blue eyes ; 
later, I fear, they are brown ! But Benson is not the only artist whose faculty of 
consistent visualisation suffers these periodical lapses. 

I Z 


bridge, not at Addington, that " theology " revealed him to 
himself.) Theological chatter indeed, and a parody of the 
Mass, disgust him. But the gallant spectacle of England, 
England awakening, England adolescent, stretching her 
muscles, flinging wide her independent enterprise, creates 
a complementary vision — the National Church, august in 
wealth and dignity and royal favour, England seen as 
spiritual, "the religious voice of the nation that was be- 
ginning to make itself so dominant in the council of the 
world." In fine rhetoric, only too modern, Anthony will 
preach that Nationalism to his Catholic friend Buxton. 
Meanwhile he sees it the closer, and its mechanism, as 
Gentleman of the Horse at Lambeth, in the Archbishop's 
household, a post received after a wasted year or two 
following upon Cambridge. But there, disillusioned gradu- 
ally by the underside of all that State religion, the sight of 
the sordid machinery, the Court intrigue, the cynic sacrifice 
not of men's lives alone, but of truth and honour and the 
spirit for the better establishment of the Throne, he realises 
that England, having hacked herself free from the Conti- 
nent, has severed too the bands which linked her with the 
supernatural. The Authority of Elizabeth, the ideal of 
England, confront those of Christ. He is the readier for 
Mr. Buxton's "puffing away" of the national ideal, and 
his substitution of the Catholic. 

As Anthony rode back alone in the evening sunlight, 
he was as one who was seeing a vision. There was indeed 
a vision before him, that had been taking shape gradually, 
detail by detail, during these last months, and ousting the 
old one, and which now, terribly emphasized by Campion's 
arguments and illuminated by the fire of his personality, 
towered up imperious, consistent, dominating — and across 
her brow her title, the Catholic Church, Far above all the 
melting cloudland of theory she moved, a stupendous fact ; 
living, in contrast with the dead past to which her enemies 


cried in vain ; eloquent when other systems were dumb ; 
authoritative when they hesitated ; steady when they reeled 
and fell. About her throne dwelt her children, from every 
race and age, secure in her protection, and wise with her 
knowledge, when other men faltered and questioned and 
doubted. And as Anthony looked up and saw her for the 
first time, he recognised her as the Mistress and Mother 
of his soul ; and although the blinding clouds of argument 
and theory and self-distrust rushed down on him again 
and filled his eyes with dust, yet he knew he had seen her 
face in very truth, and that the memory of that vision 
could never again wholly leave him. 

Fact after fact proves to him that his worshipped 
empire is not even Caesar's, but that of Caesar's freedmen. 
Asking, To whom, then, shall we go ? he " drearily " submits 
to his day's "strife of tongues." The theories of Nicholl, 
Jewell, Harding, Rastall clash around him. Buxton's 
brilliant logic buffets him. The pathetic pleading of the 
courteous old Archbishop (Benson "fell in love" with 
Grindal) cannot help him ; though Anthony, like Hugh, 
submits to farewell "interviews." More subversive of his 
peace than any talk, has been the gallant spectacle of 
Campion's death ; above all, the hideous plot, concocted 
by an ex-retainer of the Maxwells, Lackington, the Judas 
of the story. Anthony himself is tricked into betraying 
James Maxwell, who, caught at Mass, is tortured to death's 
door. Grace calls ; at Buxton's house he makes, under 
Parsons, the "spiritual exercises," and passes from the 
Tyranny into the Kingdom. 

The coincidences of Hugh's pilgrimage and Anthony's 
are admitted. I would argue that in Isabel's tale, too, are 
elements not alien to Hugh's. While, on the one hand, her 
psychology is boyish often enough, or (if you will) what a 
boy thinks a girl's psychology to be, so in Hugh were certain 
rare feminine qualities revealed, chiefly in his intuitional 


and passionate processes. Observe first, in Isabel, that 
personal, indeed romantic " love of Jesus " which was 
John Inglesant's and Hugh's, which made certain spots in 
lane or garden "sacred and fragrant to her because her 
Lord had met her there." Jesus was as real as Anthony or 
Hubert ; His love made a third with theirs. From this 
" intense individualism " a visit to London and the stately 
worship of St. Paul's lifts her, as Hugh was partly lifted, 
into the world of corporate religion. A sojourn at that 
miniature Geneva, Northampton, reveals to her at once 
the best of Calvin's Church, and the horror of his Christ, 
helpless as His Father beneath the Eternal Decree which 
damned beforehand "poor timid, despairing, hoping souls" ; 
more inflexible even than Michael Angelo's great Judge, 
who at least chooses to hurl his thunder-bolt. Through the 
thunder came no human voice, and, bruised in spirit, 
broken too (by her father's sudden death) in heart, Isabel 
returned to the Dower House, where Mistress Margaret 
came to mother her. Logic of intellect and force of facts 
buffeted Anthony Homewards. Infinite tenderness and 
terrible pain were to remodel his sister's soul. Isabel, 
like Hugh, must come to the Church " as a child." The 
old nun's schooling, best shown on the gentle page where 
she explains the Rosary, reveals to Isabel the heavenly 
Mother she had not dared to long for ; in sweet simplicity 
she moves towards the paramount Obedience. Yet might 
sweetness not suffice. Pain works the fuller miracle.^ 

* Pain is a motif in Benson's life and writing. Sounded in the " Bridge " and 
the " Dyed Garments " of The Light Invisible, it reaches full development in Initia- 
tion and Loneliness. Anthony must not lack it. He sees it as it were incarnate 
in James Maxwell's racked body ; there is a paragraph charged with intense 
feeling, where, on entering the dark and silent Hall, Anthony knows that, in 
some room or other there, that living Crucifix is awaiting him — an adequate 
answer, in itself, to the lusty argument of all-triumphant England ; and at home, 
finally, in his own body, Pain will set the spirit free. 


She has had her moment of triumph : Hubert (still nomin- 
ally a Catholic) has declared himself ; he has kissed her 
hands ; they are transfigured for her and glowing, not 
with the firelight before which she holds them up, but 
with an inner consecrated flame. The Divine Lover fades 
and faints. Her heart knows itself "desperately weak" 
towards Hubert. ... A fallen log rouses her. Her vision 
is confused. Is it this love of Hubert which draws her 
towards his Church ? Tortured into sleeplessness, she seeks 
the old nun's bedside almost in despair. A scene of most 
accurate psychology follows her conflict and foresees her 
victory. Hubert will apostatise to win her ; then she will 
have none of him. Later on, she will be called by Christ 
to renounce the truer love of Buxton, in his turn on his 
knees to her, and, last of all, Anthony's, beside whose death 
she sits. At the solemn end, as at the naive beginning, it 
is the exclusive " love of Jesus " which claims her. But 
with the cruel human pain entered the supreme joys of 
grace, felt when she, with Anthony, were received into the 
Church and made their first Communion. 

I make no apology for quoting these long pages, in 
which Benson's rhetoric, charged with passion, rises 
highest. Only one other picture of that Mass which so 
supremely " mattered " should, I fancy, be compared 
with this — Newman's, in Loss and Gain, During the 
night the promised morrow had haunted the girl's sleep. 

The night passed on. Once Isabel awoke, and saw 
her windows blue and mystical and her room full of a 
dim radiance from the bright night outside. It was 
irresistible, and she sprang out of bed and went to the 
window across the cool polished oak floor, and leaned 
with her elbows on the sill, looking out at the square of 
lawn and the low ivied wall beneath, and the tall trees 
rising beyond, ashen-grey and olive-black, in the brilliant 


glory that poured down from almost directly overhead, for 
the Paschal moon was at its height above the house. 

And then suddenly the breathing silence was broken 
by a ripple of melody, and another joined, and another ; 
and Isabel looked and wondered and listened, for she 
had never heard before the music of the mysterious night- 
flight of the larks, all soaring and singing together when 
the rest of the world is asleep. And she listened and 
wondered as the stream of song poured down from the 
wonderful spaces of the sky, rising to far-off ecstasies as 
the wheeling world sank yet further, with its sleeping 
meadows and woods, beneath the whirling singers ; and 
then the earth for a moment turned in its sleep as Isabel 
listened, and the trees stirred as one deep breath came 
across the woods, and a thrush murmured a note or two 
beside the drive, and a rabbit suddenly awoke in the 
field and ran on to the lawn and sat up and looked at 
the white figure at the window ; and far away, from the 
direction of Lindlield, a stag brayed.* 

" So longeth my soul," whispered Isabel to herself. 

Then all grew still again ; the trees hushed ; the 
torrent of music, more tumultuous as it neared the earth, 
suddenly ceased ; and Isabel at the window leaned 
further out, and held her hands in the bath of light, 
and spoke softly into the night : 

" O Lord Jesus, how kind Thou art to me 1 " 

Then, at last, the morning came, and Christ was risen 
beyond a doubt. 

Just before the sun came up, when all the sky was 
luminous to meet him, the two again passed up and 
round the corner, and into the little door in the angle. 
There was the same shaded candle or two, for the house 
was yet dark within ; and they passed up and on together 
through the sitting-room into the chapel where each had 
made a first confession the night before, and had together 
been received into the Catholic Church. Now it was all 
fragrant with flowers and herbs ; a pair of tall lilies leaned 
their delicate heads towards the altar, as if to listen for 
the soundless coming in the name of the Lord ; underfoot, 

^ On the 27th June 1905, he wrote to Mr. Rolfe: "Do you know the 
glorious hour when the world turns in her sleep and sighs, and the cocks crow, 
and cows get up and lie down again ? I lay awake till nearly three o'clock this 
morning, and heard it all happen. Sometimes all the larks soar and sing together 
at the same time." 


all about the altar, lay sprigs of sweet herbs, rosemary, 
thyme, lavender, bay-leaves, with white blossoms scattered 
over them — a soft carpet for the Pierced Feet, not like 
those rustling palm-swords over which He rode to death 
last week. The black oak chest that supported the altar- 
stone was glorious in its vesture of cloth-of-gold ; and 
against the white-hung wall at the back, behind the silver 
candlesticks, leaned the gold plate of the house, to do 
honour to the King. And presently there stood there 
the radiant rustling figure of the Priest, his personality 
sheathed and obliterated beneath the splendid symbolism 
of his vestments, stiff and chinking with jewels as he 

The glorious Mass of Easter Day began. 

" Immolatus est Christus ; itaque epulemur," Saint 
Paul cried from the south corner of the altar to the two 
converts. (" Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us ; 
therefore let us keep the feast, but not with the old 

" Quis revolvet nobis lapidem ? " wailed the women. 
("Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the 
sepulchre ? ") 

"And when they looked," cried the triumphant Evan- 
gelist, "they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it 
was very great " — " erat quippe magnus valde." 

The superb procession moves forward — the trumpets 
of the Gloria, and the tramp of the Credo, and the 
proclamation of eternal life, for which earthly life may 
well be sacrificed. 

The heralds passed on, and mysterious figures came 
next, bearing Melchisedec's gifts, shadowing the tre- 
mendous event that follows on behind. 

After a space or two came the first lines of the body- 
guard, the heavenly creatures dimly seen moving through 
clouds of glory. Angels, Dominations, Powers, Heavens, 
Virtues, and blessed Seraphim, all crying out together 
to heaven and earth to welcome Him who comes after 
in the bright shadow of the Name of the Lord ; and the 
trumpets peal out for the last time, " Hosanna in the 
highest ! " 

Then a hush fell, and presently in the stillness came 


riding the great Personages who stand in heaven about 
the Throne : first, the Queen Mother herself, glorious 
within and without, moving in clothing of wrought gold, 
high above all others ; then the great Princes of the 
Blood Royal, who are admitted to drink of the King's 
own Cup, and sit beside Him on their thrones, Peter 
and Paul and the rest, with rugged faces and scarred 
hands ; and with them great mitred figures — Linus, Cletus, 
and Clement, with their companions. 

And then another space and a tingling silence ; the 
crowds bow down like corn before the wind ; the far-off 
trumpets are silent ; and He comes, He comes ! 

On He moves, treading underfoot the laws He has 
made, yet borne up by them as on the Sea of Galilee ; 
He who inhabits eternity at an instant is made present ; 
He who transcends space is immanent in material kind ; 
He who never leaves the Father's side rests on His white 
linen carpet, held, yet unconfined, in the midst of the 
little gold things and embroidery and candle-flames and 
lilies, while the fragrance of the herbs rises about Him. 
There rests the gracious King. Before this bending group 
the rest of the pageant dies into silence and nothingness 
outside the radiant circle of His Presence. There is His 
immediate priest-herald, who has marked out this halting- 
place for the Prince, bowing before Him, striving by 
gestures to interpret and fulfil the silence that words 
must always leave empty. Here, behind, are the adoring 
human hearts, each looking with closed eyes into the 
Face of the Fairest of the children of men, each crying 
silently words of adoration, welcome, and utter love. 

The moments pass. The Court ceremonies are per- 
formed. The Virgins that follow the Lamb — Felicitas, 
Perpetua, Agatha, and the rest — step forward smiling, 
and take their part ; the Eternal Father is invoked again in 
the Son's own words ; and at length the King, descending 
yet one further step of infinite humility, flings back the 
last vesture of His outward Royalty, and casts Himself ii;i 
a passion of haste and desire into the still and invisible 
depths of these two quivering hearts, made in His own 
Image, that lift themselves in an agony of love to meet 
Him. . . . 

Meanwhile the Easter morning is deepening outside, 
the sun is rising above the yew hedge, and the dew flashes 
drop by drop into a diamond and vanishes ; the thrush 


that stirred and murmured last night is pouring out his 
song, and the larks that rose into the moonlight are 
running to and fro in the long meadow grass. The tall 
slender lilies that have not been chosen to grace the 
Sacramental Presence-Chamber are at least in the King's 
own garden, where he walks, morning and evening, in the 
cool of the day, and waiting for those who will have seen 
Him face to face. . . . 

And presently they come, the tall lad and his sister, 
silent and together, out into the radiant sunlight ; and the 
joy of the morning and the singing thrush and the jewels 
of dew and the sweet swaying lilies are shamed and put to 
silence by the joy upon their faces and in their hearts. 

Considered as a story, doubtless the book is overloaded 
and episodic. Benson, you feel, wanted to pack into it all 
he knew and felt about the period in which his life was, at 
that crisis, being lived. And that is true ; he always felt 
he would never write another book. All, then, must be 
spoken now.'^ Thus the Mary Stuart and the Campion 
pages are episodes, easily detached, especially the former. 
But Benson had fallen irrevocably under the spell of both 

^ Lord Halifax wrote to him on March 20, 1905, about this book :"...! 
thought at first that the characters were a little too much pegs on which 
to hang certain opinions, and to exemplify certain facts, and that here and 
there the thoughts were the thoughts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 
not those of the fifteenth and sixteenth. It was correct, perfectly impartial ; 
there was not a statement or an utterance for which there was not authority ; 
and yet somehow the story seemed to have been written backwards — the con- 
clusions and moral first, then the story. . . . No one can read Waverley, Rob 
Roy, and Old Mortality without becoming Jacobite, but that as the result of 
the story— it is not the story that has been developed out of Jacobite principles." 
I would suggest that neither did Hugh here sit down, as it were, to adorn a 
moral by a tale, but that having his brain simply seething with innumerable 
visions — visions of a history seen, of course, under a certain light, in a certain 
perspective — he could not but utter them. They tumbled forth pell-mell, 
one after the other, rather than fused — for fusion, he left himself no time. 
Hence the appearance of a "doctrine illustrated by examples," as they said 
in the old books. His characters are often "types" {e.g. Parson Dent and 
his wife), but that is less because they arc invented to incarnate a notion than 
because, vividly perceived, they at once cease to be just themselves, but stand 
for something further, and become significant. Thus Benson's mind always 
worked. Artistically, he does not disguise the process sufficiently. 


these personalities, as all must who come really close to 
them. Therefore the scenes at Bolton Castle and Fother- 
ingay were inevitable, though not really in place, as are 
those in Come Rack, Come Rope^ and though the trial and 
death of Campion influences Anthony, yet his brilliant 
logic is " duplicated " by Buxton's, his martyrdom by 
Maxwell's torture. Again, is not the charming chapter 
upon " Northern Religion " an unwarrantable interlude ? 
An interlude, certainly, in the story, but warrantable, I 
think, as completing the picture of England. From 
Mirfield, Hugh had made excursions all over that faithful 
North, and had grown to love the "greens of its windy 
villages " ; the stony towns of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and 
up to Westmorland ; the uncompromising Halls, the 
bleak, unwelcoming fells, where hearts were yet so warmly 
loyal and tenacious of tradition. When he wanted to know 
what was the old faith of England, Lancashire could cer- 
tainly show it to his appraising eye, and he was grateful, 
and here was his debt paid. Apart from this, the story 
moves dramatically, especially around the capture of James 
Maxwell and the death of Mary Corbet.* And it is full — 
like the world, where " plots " are rare, but personalities 
abound — of " characters." Benson's humour was to be- 
come for the most part mordant ; here, how gently he 
laughs at old Sir Nicholas, with his Catholic yet most 
" Evangelical " piety, his love of shrewd intrigue, and his 
childlike innocence. 

Often Benson shows us a chivalrous and tender aflfec- 

' Benson was again and again implored to write the decisive romance of 
Mary Queen of Scots. He trembled to touch it. He agreed with Mr. Maurice 
Hewlett, author of The Queen^s Quhair, which he admired, that the " other 
woman " in Mary's case was not Queen Elizabeth, but Lady Bothwell. 

- Melodramatically, even ; as when, to the question, Who captained the 
English ship, which, after such massacre and sacrilege, took the Spanish ship? 
comes the answer, '* Hubert Maxwell." 


tion for old ladies. Some have resented this, as though he 
could not let himself love women till he could pity them. 
Still, it gave us Lady Maxwell and her sister, types subtly 
different, though each of them so great a lady. Benson 
loved that velvet graciousness, and lace-like delicacy, and 
dignity of silver hair and jewels. Lady Maxwell is magni- 
ficent, and tender ; as when she quells her village folk, 
furious with the parson's bitter wife, who had betrayed 
the priest lodging in the Hall ; and then nurses and indeed 
converts the panic-stricken woman. And with these two 
put Mary Corbet, the ^^incomparable" Mary Corbet, as a 
conspiracy (one would think) of critics always names her, 
in her peacock gowns or rosy silks or muslins, with her 
clouds of coal-black hair, her flashing hands and restless 
wit and banter and court graces, and with a heart as pure 
and loyal and detached as ever was Isabel's. Yet Benson 
knew no "Mary Corbet" to inspire that picture, which 
is separate in this book, so unneeded by the story, so 
justified in itself ! His vision of her must have been no 
less clear-cut and distinct and finished, and he never quite 
reproduced her. For transition to what I hold to be 
the true essence of the book, take Hubert Maxwell, the 
supplanter of James Maxwell, the buccaneer with Drake. 
How boyishly Benson exults in these tales of blood and 
gunpowder, and how headlong is the rush of his story of 
Drake's knighting, and how high its colour ! How ade- 
quately this apostate for the sake of the pride of life and 
lust of eyes, symbolises, for Benson, that wanton, cruel, 
laughing England, intent on strangling the Spirit with her 
vigorous young hands. How Hubert dwindles, when 
arraigned before his mother and before the aged nun ; 
how he shrivels, while she remains serene, so utterly her- 
self. And how horrible is that hour of reaction, of lowered 


vitality, when he sits in the Hall, now decatholicised and 
with all the soul struck out of it, while in his loneliness the 
sinister ghost peers at his soul, and the surmise : What, 
after all, if the Roman Church were true ? Benson, like 
Newman, had been haunted by that ghost, and with the 
dawn welcomed the substance ; for Hubert unreality re- 
mained triumphant, and still, at the end, we cannot tell 
whether the night is to break again for him. 

But in Hubert and Anthony, Benson really teaches that, 
as in the jEneid it is Rome, not ^Eneas, who is " hero " 
and gives the piece its unity, so here the supreme factor 
is a City ; or, if you will, that the two cities which Augustine 
saw, eternally opposed, God's and the world's, were here 
and now for him incarnated in Rome and England. Ben- 
son's panegyric of England throughout is quite superb. 
To the full he realises the magnificence of her dawn and 
the promise of her sun. And this England was in her 
turn incarnate in Elizabeth. At Cambridge, Anthony first 
saw Elizabeth ; then, her presence scarcely led him be- 
yond itself. Later, from a balcony in Cheapside, brother 
and sister watch her progress. Gorgeously the rapid prose 
paints the procession — a pomp of royalty preceded, 
though, by that scourged man, writhing at the cart's tail, 
his back one red wound, yelled and laughed at by the 
crowd like any of those " scourged fools " of ancient days 
in Syria or in Egypt. He passed, and Anthony saw the 

A figure of extraordinary dignity, sitting upright and 
stiff like a pagan idol, dressed in a magnificent and fantas- 
tic purple robe, with a great double ruff, like a huge collar, 
behind her head ; a long taper waist, voluminous skirts 
spread all over the cushions, embroidered with curious 
figures and creatures. Over her shoulders, but opened in 


front so as to show the rope of pearls and the blaze of 
jewels on the stomacher, was a purple velvet mantle lined 
with ermine, with pearls sewn into it here and there. Set 
far back on her head, over a pile of yellow-reddish hair 
drawn tightly back from the forehead, was a hat with 
curled brims, elaborately embroidered, with the jewelled 
outline of a Httle crown in front, and a high feather top- 
ping all. 

And her face — a long oval, pale and transparent in 
complexion, with a sharp chin and a high forehead, high 
arched eyebrows, auburn, but a little darker than her hair ; 
her mouth was small, rising at the corners, with thin 
curved lips tightly shut ; and her eyes, which were clear 
in colour, looked incessantly about her with great liveliness 
and good-humour. 

There was something overpowering to these two 
children who looked, too awed to cheer, on this formidable 
figure in the barbaric dress, the gorgeous climax of a 
gorgeous pageant. Apart from the physical splendour, 
this solitary glittering creature represented so much — it 
was the incarnate genius of the laughing, brutal, wanton 
English nation, that sat here in the gilded carriage and 
smiled and glanced with tight lips and clear eyes. She 
was like some emblematic giant, moving in a processional 
car, as fantastic as itself, dominant and serene above the 
heads of the maddened crowds, on to some mysterious 
destiny. A sovereign, however personally inglorious, has 
such a dignity in some measure ; and Elizabeth added to 
this an exceptional majesty of her own. Henry would not 
have been ashamed for this daughter of his. What wonder, 
then, that these crowds were delirious with love and loyalty 
and an exultant fear, as this overwhelming personality 
went by — this pale-faced, tranquil virgin Queen, passionate, 
wanton, outspoken, and absolutely fearless ; with a suffi- 
cient reserve of will to be fickle without weakness, and 
sufficient grasp of her aims to be indifferent to her policy, 
untouched by vital religion, financially shrewd, inordi- 
nately vain. And when this strange dominant creature, 
royal by character as by birth, as strong as her father 
and as wanton as her mother, sat in ermine and velvet 
and pearls in a royal carriage, with shrewd-faced wits, and 
bright-eyed lovers, and solemn statesmen, and great nobles, 
vacuous and gallant, glittering and jingling before her, 
and troops of tall ladies in ruff and crimson mantle riding 


on white horses behind ; and when the fanfares went 
shattering down the street, vibrating through the continuous 
roar of the crowd and the shrill cries of children and the 
mellow thunder of church bells rocking overhead, and the 
endless tramp of a thousand feet below ; and when the 
whole was framed in this fantastic, twisted street, blazing 
with tapestries and arched with gables and banners, all 
bathed in glory by the clear frosty sunshine, it is little 
wonder that for a few minutes at least this country boy 
felt that here at last was the incarnation of his dreams, 
and that his heart should exult with an enthusiasm he 
could not interpret, for the cause of a people who could 
produce such a Queen, and of a Queen who could rule 
such a people ; and that his imagination should be fired 
with a sudden sense that these were causes for which the 
sacrifice of a life would be counted cheap, if they might 
thereby be furthered. 

Yet in this very moment, by one of those mysterious 
suggestions that rise from the depth of a soul, the image 
passed into his mind, and poised itself there for an instant, 
of the grey-haired man who had passed half an hour 
ago sobbing and shrinking at the cart's tail. 

Again he saw her, when he had appealed to Caesar for 
the life of James Maxwell and had won his boon. That 
night he witnessed the revels of the English goddess, and 
here still the contrast stirred his soul : 

There across the rippling of lutes from the ladies in the 
next room, in slow, swaying measure, with the gentle tap 
of a drum now and again ; and the pavane began a stately, 
dignified dance ; and among all the ladies moved the 
great Queen herself, swaying and bending with much 
grace and dignity. It was the strangest thing for Anthony 
to find himself here, a raven among all these peacocks 
and birds of paradise ; and he wondered at himself and 
at the strange humour of Providence, as he watched the 
shimmer of the dresses, and the sparkle of the shoes and 
jewels, and the soft clouds- of muslin and lace that shivered 
and rustled as the ladies stepped ; the firelight shone 
through the wide doorway on this glowing movement, and 
groups of candles in sconces within the room increased 
and steadied the soft intensity of the light. The soft ting- 


ling instruments, with the slow tap-tap marking the 
measure like a step, seemed a translation into chord and 
melody of this stately tender exercise. And so this glorious 
flower-bed, loaded too with a wealth of essences in the 
dresses and the sweet-washed gloves, swayed under the 
wind of the music, bending and rising together in slow 
waves and ripples. Then it ceased ; and the silence was 
broken by a quick storm of applause while the dancers 
waited for the lutes. Then all the instruments broke out 
together in quick triple time ; the stringed instruments 
supplying a hasty, throbbing accompaniment, while the 
shrill flutes began to whistle and the drums to gallop ; — 
there was yet a pause in the dance, till the Queen made 
the first movement ; — and then the whole whirled off on 
the wings of a coranto. 

It was bewildering to Anthony, who had never even 
dreamed of such a dance before. He watched first the 
lower line of the shoes and the whole floor, in reality 
above, and in the mirror of the polished boards below, 
seemed scintillating in lines of diamond light ; the heavy 
underskirts of brocade, puffed satin, and cloth of gold, 
with glimpses of foamy lace beneath, whirled and tossed 
above these flashing vibrations. Then he looked at the 
higher strata, and there was a tossing sea of faces and 
white throats, borne up, as it seemed — now revealed, now 
hidden — on clouds of undulating muslin and lace, with 
sparkles of precious stones set in ruffs and wings and on 
high-piled hair. 

As Anthony went down the square winding staircase 
an hour later, when the evening was over, and the keen 
winter air poured up to meet him, his brain was throbbing 
with the madness of dance and music and whirling colour. 
Here, it seemed to him, lay the secret of life. For a few 
minutes his old day-dreams came back, but in more in- 
toxicating dress. The figure of Mary Corbet in her rose- 
coloured silk and her clouds of black hair, and her jewels 
and her laughing eyes and scarlet mouth, and her violet 
fragrance and her fire — this dominated the boy. As he 
walked towards the stables across the starlit court, she 
seemed to move before him, to hold out her hands to him, 
to call him her own dear lad ; to invite him out of the 
drab-coloured life that lay on all sides, behind and before, 


up into a mystic region of jewelled romance, where he and 
she would live and be one in the endless music of rippling 
strings and shrill flutes and the maddening tap of a little 
hidden drum. 

But the familiar touch of his own sober suit and the 
creaking saddle as he rode home to Lambeth, and the icy 
wind that sang in the river sedges, and the wholesome 
smell of the horse and the touch of coarse hair at the 
shoulder, talked and breathed the old Puritan common- 
sense back to him again. That warm-painted, melodious 
world he had left was gaudy nonsense ; and dancing was 
not the same as living ; and Mary Corbet was not just a 
rainbow on the foam that would die when the sun went 
in ; but both she and he together were human souls, re- 
deemed by the death of the Saviour, with His work to do, 
and no time or energy for folly ; and James Maxwell in 
the Tower — thank God, however, not for long — James 
Maxwell, with his wrenched joints and forehead and lips 
wet with agony, was in the right ; and that lean, bitter, 
furious woman in the purple and pearls, who supped to 
the blare of trumpets and danced to the ripple of lutes, 
wholly and utterly and eternally in the wrong. 

Last of all he saw Elizabeth, when, a priest, he chose 
the rack, death, and the service of the Kingdom rather 
than liberty and life at the conditions of her tyranny. 
He had his wish, and lay dying in the Tower in Isabel's 

As she knelt and watched him, her thoughts circled 
continually in little flights ; to the walled garden of the 
Dower House in sunshine, and Anthony running across 
it in his brown suit, with the wallflowers behind him 
against the old red bricks and ivy, and the tall chestnut 
rising behind ; to the wind-swept hills, with the thistles 
and the golden-rod, and the hazel thickets, and Anthony 
on his pony, sunburnt and voluble, hawk on wrist, with 
a light in his eyes ; to the warm, panelled hall in winter, 
with the tapers on the round table, and Anthony flat on 
his face, with his feet in the air before the hearth, that 
glowed and roared up the wide chimney behind, and his 
chin on his hands, and a book open before him ; or, 
farther back even still, to Anthony's little room at the 


top of the house, his clothes on a chair, and the boy him- 
self sitting up in bed with his arms round his knees as 
she came in to wish him good night and talk to him a 
minute or two. And every time the circling thought came 
home and settled again on the sight of that still, straight 
figure lying on the mattress, against the discoloured bricks, 
with the light of the taper glimmering on his thin face and 
brown hair and beard ; and every time her heart consented 
that this was the best of all. 

The day dawned, and the city gradually awoke. An- 
thony opened his eyes. She was reading the Gospel for 
Easter Sunday. As she spoke the words, " Magnus valde " 
when the great stone was rolled away, Anthony died. 
Isabel went out, after a while, through the keen and cloud- 
less October sunrise. As she stood there by the Thames, 
the Judas, Lackington, who had thus triply given Christ 
over to His enemies, passed by, and would salute her, 
but she never saw him. "She turned almost immediately 
. . . and as she went the day deepened above her." 

Such is the romance into which Benson poured his 
own life as he had lived it hitherto. It contains, perhaps, all 
his usual brilliance, and more, I feel, than his usual ten- 
derness. It is as a record of his efforts and of his joys that 
I have spoken of it so fully. 

It was felt, as might without difficulty have been fore- 
seen, that so swiftly ordained a priest must still pause 
before he ventured into the uncertain seas of ministry. 
A house for his further studies was being sought, and the 
old epigram, originally launched at the neophyte-priest, 
H. E. Manning, was rehearsed. Father Benson, people 
murmured with sage nods, having been ordained priest, 
is about to proceed to Cambridge to commence his 

For upon Cambridge the combined choice of Hugh and 
I 2 A 


of Authority had fallen, and thither in October he repaired, 
not to the Catholic rectory, but to Llandaff House (singular 
coincidence of names : the house was built by Bishop 
Watson of Llandaff, who occupied himself with a professor- 
ship at Cambridge), inhabited by Mgr. Barnes, a fellow 
Etonian and an Oxford man, afterwards a lieutenant of 
the R.F.A., and Catholic chaplain at the University. The 
front of this house projects almost exactly opposite to 
the University Arms Hotel, and the garden at its back 
stretches away to the grounds of Downing College. 

Hugh was of course enchanted with the house and its 
" big, high rooms with curved corners, &c." 

" I have," he writes on October 23, " a large room 
looking on to the street, and am very comfortable in all 
ways ; it is very odd to be here. 

" It was a heavenly time at Tremans." 

Within the house Hugh lay, so to put it, very low. 
'' We breakfasted separately," Mgr. Barnes writes to me, 
"after our respective Masses; and he then retired to his 
room, and only emerged for meals and a constitutional." 

He was engaged in studying theology in the morn- 
ings, and during the afternoons he wrote, and in the 
evenings insisted on reading the day's work aloud to 
his host, who was not always very encouraging. . . . 
More congenial were his discussions as to which gem 
in Farrar's Eric best deserved illustration (for it was 
now that he drew most of these), and on the whole this 
unacademic comradeship served to lay the ghosts he 
created for himself by the writing of the Mirror of 
Shalott. He would often appear, all his nerves on edge 
with his own inventions : " I cannot b-b-ear to be alone," 
he would exclaim. 


However, he soon picked up the threads of ordinary 
life, and writing now became for him an integral part 
of this. 

October 31. 

I began Moral Theology this morning, and finished 
the Henry VIII book on Saturday. Isbister says that the 
devotional book will be out this week ; and By What 
Authority by November 15. Now I am starting to revise 
the Charles II one. 

Of the Henry VIII book something will be said in a 
moment ; the devotional book is, of course, the Book of the 
Love of Jesus. 

November 6. 

Nothing at all has happened — but it is a delightful 
life, and I am beginning to make acquaintances among 
the undergraduates, and dine and lunch a good deal, 
and have also started Moral Theology, and really find 
that I remember it pretty well. 

I go to King's a good lot, and mumble superstitiously 
in the ante-chapel ; but people are very nice. 

He rejoins the Decemviri club (which met, on one 
occasion, which felt strange to him, in his old rooms at 
Trinity), and, writes Mr. A. C. Benson, '< One of the 
members of that time has since told me that he was the 
only older man he had ever known who really mixed with 
undergraduates and debated with them on absolutely equal 
terms. But indeed, so far as looks went, though he was 
now thirty-four, he might almost have been an under- 
graduate himself." ^ 

Besides this, he frequents the Pitt Club, and heads many 
of his letters with its name ; also he joined the Musical 

* Mr. A. C. Benson has, too, the following anecdote : 

" I remember that we entered the room together when dining with a hospit- 
able Master, and were introduced to a guest, to his bewilderment, as * Mr. 
Benson ' and ' Father Benson.' ' I must explain,' said our host, ' that Father 
Benson is not Mr. Benson's father ! ' 'I should have imagined that he might 
be his son ! ' said the guest." 


Society, and other similar associations, which enables him 
rather naively to remark on November 15 : 

It is heavenly here — exactly the sort of life one likes — 
except that there is not time to write very many books. 

The King^s Achievement was by now, however, an 
accomplished fact. 

On October 31 he wrote to Mrs. Benson that the Henry 
VIII book was finished. In November 1904 he read it 
through to " Christopher Dell " ^ and decided that it was 
a great advance upon By What Authority, being so much 
better put together. And on February 13 he wrote to his 
mother, to whom he had sent the book : " I know it is not 
so effective in the last scene as in Anthony's death, but 
I think it may be partly owing to the fact that one hasn't 
the same sympathy with Ralph." 

This he continued to feel about the book, and wrote on 
November 6, 1905, to his friend Mr. F. Rolfe : 

The only reason why I am entirely ill at ease about The 
Kings Achievement is that it doesn't represent really any 
part of my being. Not one of the characters is my 
intimate friend. Now in my other books they are — the 
whole lot. ... I have looked at them, not written them. 
Do you see ? 

He considered, too, that he had produced the book 
much too fast. 

His sister, Miss M. Benson, wrote on November 20 that 
she had re-read The King^s Achievement aloud. 

" I do think," she concludes, " it is a much better book 
than I had remembered. It's beautifully written, a pleasure 
to read, and either you have improved it very much in 
concentration or it was not so invertebrate as I thought. 
Still, it's not so engaging as the others, though Beatrice is 

* The hero of The Sentimentalists, infra, Vol. II., p. 47 sqq. 


really very fine indeed, and really I do give you credit 
for understanding the way in which women can be friends. 
So few people do understand, and I can't remember any 
man, a novelist, who does. 

" Beth," she continues, " wished me to say that she 
thought some of the people were very unkind and crewel ; 
but sometimes they were very kind and loving, and alto- 
gether it ended better than she expected ; but she does wish 
you'd write a book about people who were less disagreeable 
with one another." 

Poor Beth was haunted by the " crewelty " of Hugh's 
personages. She pursued Miss Benson quite a long time 
afterwards, and repeated : 

" I was going to ask you when we was by ourselves — 
Why were they all so — disagreeable ? " 

In this book, as in the later romances. Miss Benson was 
invaluable for the help she gave her brother in the looking 
up of references and verifying of dates and other details. 

The Kings Achievement was a far better title for this 
book than what Hugh first meant to call it — The King's 
Conscience. Henry VHI appears in it, noticeably, but once, 
in a scene parallel, but inferior, to that in which Anthony 
in By What Authority intercedes with Elizabeth. ^ More- 
over, his coarse figure dominates the book far less than 
does Elizabeth in the earlier romance, nor is his 
psychology analysed with the subtlety Hugh was willing 
to expend upon the Queen. His pathos is not indicated, 
nor his artistic, pious, and passionate youth, nor that re- 
ligious anxiety which was with him to the end. Cranmer, 
too, is a far paler figure than is Grindal. and Ralph 
than either Anthony, James, or even Hubert. Chris is 
far less alive than Anthony. There is no Isabel, and after 

^ There is a water progress, however, comparable to Elizabeth's procession 
down Cheapside. 


More and Fisher have been despatched, there is no one 
left, among the outstanding actors, save Beatrice Atherton, 
who is "pendant" to Mary Corbet, as everyone has 
recognised. The mass of secondary actors are soundly 
drawn, except, may I perhaps say, Lady Torridon, who 
is neither quite modern nor certainly in the least Tudor. 
This diffused and levelled interest may be more in harmony 
with most experience of life, but makes the book to be 
less romantic than Hugh's first historical novel. 

Its real hero, or what gives it unity, is here no longer 
England, but the monasteries. That Hugh recognised this 
is witnessed by the change of its title, and by the criti- 
cism which pursued the volume. Catholic critics were 
often very indignant that he made his monks such craven 
creatures, hysterical and bewildered, yielding quickly to 
the brow-beating of the Visitors. On the other side, a 
controversy in an important Review was begun, but not 
continued, Benson considering that the manners of his 
opponent, which, it must be confessed, were sufficiently 
notorious, were such as precluded much discussion. Here, 
Benson felt, was but a modern Man with a Muck-rake, not 
seeking, however foolishly, for a pearl among the filth, but 
raking for filth and more filth, and chucking it about the 
world with his mean instrument. It may be as well to 
remark that Benson was not shirking when he professed 
his distaste for certain sorts of controversy. He satisfied 
his conscience most scrupulously by referring each of 
the disputed points to one or two authorities at Oxford 
whose sanction he considered final ; and so little inclined 
was he to suppose that all things Catholic were perfect 
because Catholic, that he permitted himself to find a 
certain Catholic ally to be, in method and language, " far 
more objectionable — vulgar, abusive, and currish," than 


his non-Catholic adversary. The important points are, 
first, that Benson simply disregarded the attacks which 
aimed at finding him out in minute errors ; what he asked 
was that his general picture should be accurate. ^ Second, 
it can be safely said that not even so did Benson even 
approach an adequate statement of the misery, deserved 
and undeserved, occasioned by the dissolution of the 
monasteries. Of this anyone may be satisfied who has 
had the least personal knowledge of events in France 
from 1900 onwards. All but a handful of Englishmen 
were, and, I imagine, always will be, in complete and com- 
placent ignorance of the atrocities which were perpetrated 
within a half-day's journey of their homes. Catholics 
preach peace ; and presumably the history of the modern 
expulsion never will be written. Benson knew little 
enough of that shocking chapter of all but contemporary 
history ; else he could have heightened his colours, and 
without fear. 

The story is certainly well built up of opposing per- 
sonalities, and therefore full of the tragedy of twilit human 
wills, active and in conflict and generating ill. There is 
only one monster in the book — Henry VIII. One other 
figure, briefly upon the scene, is devilish — the ex-priest 
Layton, chief and obscenest looter of the monasteries, worse 
than the traitor Lackington. Else, we have Sir James 
and Lady Torridon, he loyal to creed, she an agnostic 
before her proper time, with head empty of the larger 
and holier ideals she never understood ; and their 
daughters, Mary and Margaret, who have appeared in 

^ It was on these lines that he vigorously attacked Kingsley's Westward Ho ■ 
in Everymati, and responded with some acerbity to an "answer" which concen- 
trated on points of detail. He argued that Kingsley, in his superb and vital 
romance, unconsciously but substantially falsified the whole picture of period and 
individuals, under the spell of an anti-papal theory. CyVol. II., p. 224. 


By What Authority as Catholics grown old in their fidelity. 
Chris and Ralph are their two brothers, Chris manly 
enough at first, and at last, but somewhat of a disiguilibre 
while a monk ; Ralph, a worldling in search of advance- 
ment, faithful to nothing save, at first, to his ambition, 
and at the end, to his fallen master, Cromwell. The 
brothers pursue devious ways of life, and Ralph will be 
found expelling his own sister from her convent, and 
his brother from his Lewes Priory, of which the demoli- 
tion makes one of the really tragic moments of this book. 

It is perhaps interesting to note that just as Benson 
was writing the description of Chris bathing at night in 
the lake of his home, Overfield, he wrote to Mr. Rolfe : 

I like your 6.30 bathing inexpressibly ; possibly you know 
the ID P.M. bathing too. But yours is far more whole- 
some, and appears to me slightly sacramental, as no doubt 
you make it. 

And again from Tremans : 

iWay 30,1905. 

There is a new lake where I bathed night and morning 
last year, and this year cannot at all, through reason of 
two savage swans. It was superb last year by moonlight ; 
I went down there a good many times with V. and F., 
who were here. But it was slightly devilish too, with 
wreaths of mist coming off the water, and the stars and 
moon, and dead silence. 

It is really the Catholic Beatrice Atherton who is 
responsible for the two dramatic " reversals of fortune " 
occurring in this book. One is entertaining and pathetic, 
but structurally unimportant — that of Lady Torridon, when 
Beatrice, by delicious word-play, stings her out of her 
contemptuous complacency first into amazement, then fury, 
then distress, and finally conversion ; the other that of 
Ralph himself, who, after a life spent, as I said, in self- 


aggrandisement at the expense of every ideal, at the last 
moment burns the paper which should have incriminated 
Cromwell — a useless sacrifice, since Cromwell's head has 
anyhow to fall, and Ralph to be racked and die. 

His last words were " My — my Lord," and gave occa- 
sion to one of Hugh Benson's quite characteristic con- 
fessions. The boys of Riverview College, Sydney, have a 
competition which involves their writing a letter to the 
author whose books they have been studying for a certain 
prize. I cannot resist quoting from three of them : 

To Rev. R. H. Benson. 

Rev. Sir, — One improvement might be made with 
regard to the closing sentence of The Kings Achieve- 
ment. You say the dying words of Ralph Torridon 
were : " My Lord." Well, these words are a trifle ambiguous. 
I presume they refer to Cromwell, and that they mean 
Ralph, even at his death, was more faithful to Cromwell 
than to God. Otherwise you would have "My God." 
But couldn't you alter them a little, and make the meaning 
plainer? — Yours, T. M. (II Grammar). 

Dear Father Robert Benson, — I have just finished 
your novel. The King s Achievement, and like it very much. 
There are a very few things which, improved, would make 
the novel better. About the character of Ralph Torridon : 
on the whole it is very well put together, but I do not 
think any person could so insult his brother, sister, and 
father as he did. Now, at Ralph's death, I do not like 
the way you end up. It left a funny impression on my 
mind, for the novel makes out that he died very badly, 
which, I think, is untrue to life. With these few remarks 
I will close. — Yours, M. R. R. (II Grammar). 

Dear Father Benson, — Lady Torridon is as mute as a 
door-post, and yet you tell us that Ralph is like her. Well, 
Ralph is all activity, and is never at home. Again, Lady 
Torridon, I think, ought to start more quarrels at home, 
and be more lively about it, if she is to be like Ralph, and 
if she has such hatred for the monks. Dom Anthony is 
a character which I don't think you have given us enough 


of. He is a charming piece of soul and body, as one can 
see by his action at Lewes, and then we don't see anything 
of him and his bright ways when he has gone, and has 
been banished. I'm sure he was not idle when he left 
Lewes. — Yours very sincerely, 

B. B. (Sub-senior). 

Father Benson replied as follows : 

Catholic Rectory, Cambridge, 

April 13. 

To the Editors of the Alma Mater. 

Gentlemen, — I must thank you most sincerely for the 
letters which you have admitted to your magazine with 
reference to one or two of my books, for the kind criticisms 
and suggestions contained in them, and for the gift of the 
magazine in question. 

Will you allow me to reply shortly to these letters ? 

(i) Mr. T M. has hit upon the very point that was in 
my own mind as I wrote the last words of The King's 
Achievement. He says they are ambiguous ; I intended 
that they should be. Dying persons who have lived more 
than doubtful lives generally are ambiguous. I also in- 
tended to suggest that in accordance with Miss Beatrice 
Atherton's words, on a few pages before, it was possible, 
considering all things, that loyalty to even such a villain 
as Cromwell might be a virtue rather than a defect. It 
is sometimes better to be faithful to a villain, in an in- 
different matter, than to be faithful to nobody. 

Finally, if I am asked whether I meant the words 
'' My Lord " to refer to Cromwell or to Almighty God, I 
can only answer that I am as doubtful as Mr. M. R. I 
wish, however, it was untrue to life to make an evil liver 
die evilly — though I don't say that Ralph did. 

(2) Mr. M. R. objects to Ralph's villainy towards 
his family. So do I, very much. But — well, it is better 
to be an optimist than a pessimist. It is optimism that 
converts the world. I will try to correct my pessimistic 

(3) Mr. B. B. objects that Ralph and his mother, who 
are said to be alike, are not really so. But people's atti- 
tudes towards life, and their characters, can be very much 
alike even though they express them quite differently. A 
green butterfly is more really like a brown one, than a 
brown one is like a dead leaf. Please consider this, Mr. B. 


No, indeed, Dom Anthony was not idle when he left 
Lewes ; but I simply hadn't time to go after him abroad. 
He only succeeded with great difficulty in escaping him- 
self. I didn't like to take the risk of going with him ; and, 
as I say, there wasn't time. — Gentlemen, I am yours faith- 
fully, Robert Hugh Benson. 

P.S. — I trust all the other authors to whom you have 
written will answer also. [The other authors were Scott, 
Dickens, and Coleridge.] 

Though the book has fewer set scenes, perhaps, fewer 
episodes (the Pilgrimage of Grace is unnecessarily episodic, 
just like "Northern Religion "in the earlier book), less rhetoric, 
and more introspection of a slightly neurotic type (Chris 
does not really master us, and Ralph's soul moves jerkily), 
there is more even colour and progression in it which, had 
Benson been destined ever to give himself due time for 
his work, might have fulfilled its promise of real construc- 
tive eminence. As it is, Anne Boleyn, laughing frantically 
up to her death's eve in the very Tower room where she 
had spent the eve of her coronation, is an unforgettable 
vignette ; the scenes with More at Chelsea and with 
Fisher, with Mary Torridon — in need, at first, of her con- 
vent as pathetically as ever was Bazin's Isolie — make epi- 
sodes of true drama. 

Hugh spent Christmas at Tremans, for which he had 
been preparing charades, " with a large collection of masks." 
He there told his mother that he wanted to join, if possible, 
at Magdalene, where about this time his brother was coming 
to take up residence. Already in November he had 
thought of establishing himself at any rate at Cambridge. 

November 28. 

I am beginning to think vaguely of coming here per- 
manently. There is an immense amount to be done. But 
it is only very vague. 


To Miss E. Kemble Martin he repeated : 

There is an immense amount to do, if one only has 
sufficient tact, as all sorts of people are interested in the 
Church, and wish to hear about it. There is no need to go 
out of one's way to seek them, even if it were advisable, 
which it is not. 

The Magdalene plan was judged, however, indiscreet, 
if not impracticable, at least for the present ; and he soon 
offered himself to Mgr. Scott as possible curate at the 
Catholic rectory. Financial considerations for the moment 
put this plan too into abeyance.^ 

That he did not actually go to Magdalene did not, 
however, stand in the way of much intercourse between 
him and his elder brother. A new friendship was in- 
augurated, unusual, surely, between brothers who have 
reached middle-age without any such sense of close 
comradeship having declared itself. These, also, it might 
have been judged, had not recently been separated by a 
spiritual schism, more profound than any which existed 
in their younger years. However, this friendship did but 
become the easier and more expansive as time went on, 
and the slight sense of being — in the background, somehow 
— at war, vanished. Others, in rather surprising numbers, 
have noticed, in the later years, Hugh's increased gentle- 
ness and power of making allowances without sacrifice of 

From Rome Hugh had written to his mother, and in all 
the singular circumstances I do not hesitate long to quote 
these fragments : 

I had a long letter from Arthur, so nice, this morning, 

^ He was very pleased by an invitation to take a mission at Downside. 
Trust was thus displayed in him, and that the request came from religious, and 
these the Benedictines, pleased him yet more. But he had to refuse. 


about a boy I wrote to him about who wants to get into 
Eton next year. I Hke Arthur. 

And now in 1905 he will say : 

Arthur comes up to-day ; and I am dining with him 
to-night. He is delightful. 

And later on to a friend : 

Yes, E. F. B. is a cheerful bird. And A. C. B. is a bird 
of paradise. He now tells me that I may have a private 
sitting-room and bedroom in his new house whenever I 
care to come ; and SILENCE for nineteen hours out of 
twenty-four. He has also, so to speak, made me a Fellow 
of Magdalene, and tells me to dine there at his expense 
whenever I want to, whether he is there or not. What a 
heavenly man ! 

This was after Mr. A. C. Benson had taken, for a short 
period, Hinton Hall, with its shooting of some eight hundred 
acres in the Ely flats. 

Of this, Hugh wrote on March 24, 1906 : 

[Hinton Hall] really is quite heavenly, delightful 
inside — and no human habitation in sight outside. It 
struck me, morbidly perhaps, but also complimentarily, 
that it would be an ideal place to be ill in. It would be 
cheerful and interesting ; and one would know that all 
the rest of the house was pleased and smiling too, and 
that nobody would come and bother, or make a noise, or 
ring the bell. I don't think one could pay a higher com- 
pliment to any place, unless one said one would like to 
have been brought up there as a child ; and that also I felt. 

As yet, however, Mr. Benson had only the hospitality 
of Magdalene to offer to his brother ; Hugh availed himself 
freely of it, and often went there to dine, passing beneath the 
old clock with its significant motto : Garde ta Foy. It was 
with offered fancies such as these that his ingenious brain 
loved to play. Mr. A. C. Benson on his side enjoyed 


coming to Llandaff House, and besides this, he writes in 
Hugh : 

We arranged always to walk together on Sunday after- 
noons. As an old member of King's College, I had a key 
of the garden there, in the Backs, and a pass-key of the 
college gates, which were locked on Sunday during the 
chapel service. We always went and walked about that 
beautiful garden with its winding paths, or sat out in 
the bowling-green. Then we generally let ourselves into 
the college grounds, and went up to the south porch of the 
chapel, where we could hear the service proceeding within. 
I can remember Hugh saying, as the Psalms came to an 
end : " Anglican double chants, how comfortable and 
delicious, and how entirely irreligious 1 " 

" It fails one," he said, on another occasion, of 
academical religion, " if one is ill." ^sthetically, this 
worship of universities and cathedrals was very nearly 
his ideal. 

The morality play of Everyman was at this time revealing 
to him new possibilities for a Catholic author. He went, 
too, to Oxford for the Clouds, and made a really affec- 
tionate acquaintance with Mr. F. F. Urquhart of Balliol.^ 
Mr. Urquhart introduced him later on to a small Catholic 
debating club, now defunct, and suggested him for Mr. 
Wilfrid Ward's Westminster Dining Society, to which he 
was in fact elected. He read there a paper on Personality 
on March 29, 1905, of which there is no need to give any 
details. His views on this and allied subjects are dis- 
cussed below. On April 5, he wrote to Mr. Urquhart : 

April 5. 

I should immensely like to go to Stonyhurst some day ; 
but at present, I am afraid, I am as full up as I can be. 

^ He found Mr. Urquhart "charming, and extraordinarily clever, and very 
Oxfordy." By this he did not allude to what he called the Axfahd manner, 
which was complicated by ecclesiasticism, and involved pats and pawings and 
brotherly embraces which reduced his nerves to chaotic exasperation. 


I read its history a few years ago with great pleasure. 
Thank you for what you tell me about The Light In- 
visible.^ It is good to hear of things like that. We had 
a good dinner last week at the Dining Society ; Lord 
Llandaff was a little caustic, as usual ; and Balfour " sat 

soundly on Fr. P for saying that theologians talked a 

different language to scientists. " That is my point," he 
said ; " it is what I complain of." I was so much in- 
terested to hear of Fr. Tyrrell. He was kind to me in 
correspondence three years ago ; when I was " upset." . . . 
And I hear a lot about him from various [people] ; and 
read his books over and over again. 

I always recommend him as an antidote to Mallock, 
they are so very much alike in shrewdness and subtlety. 

Having accomplished The King's Achievement, it was 
on Queen Mary Tudor he now concentrated. 

Llandaff House, Cambridge, 
February 1 5 [1905]. 

Now I want to begin on Queen Mary. A great many 
reviews have taunted me with having avoided that side, 
and I want much to show that a case can be made. Mary 
is one of the most pathetic figures in history, I think — 
snubbed, misunderstood, soured by trouble, with a con- 
science and convictions such as few have. 

March 6 [1905]. 

I am on the verge of the Mary Book, exactly as on the 
edge of a pond on a cold day — dawdling over trifles, and 
meaning to plunge, and then thinking I must do some- 
thing else first — it is an appalling undertaking. 

Three distractions here occurred — he discovers a cold- 
water cure : ^ the Bishop of Northampton accepts him for 
his diocese ; and there is a University discussion on the 
suppression of Greek at the entrance examination. After 

1 This was, that it had interested and comforted the last days of a young 
Jesuit who had recently died. 

^ The late Mr. Reginald Balfour. 

^ It was some dyspepsia of the sort here implied, I imagine, which made him 
create a sensation by fainting in King's Combination Room after dinner on 
Nov. 1 8, 1904. 


it he exclaims : " I did not think there were so many 
clergymen in the world ! . . ." In consequence he found 
heart to resume his task. 

November 13. 

I have begun " Mary " with dreadful fear. If only I 
can do it right, it will be by far the best thing I have done ; 
but it is difficult beyond belief. I am telling half from my 
hero's point of view, and half from Mary's — mixing them 
up. My man's is easy enough ; but the Queen's is fearful ! 
I have to know every conceivable detail. I have already 
found out that she ate quantities of meat for breakfast. 

The book is therefore to be a psychological study rather 
than a romance with an ordered plot, and will involve, in 
the main, the Queen herself, and Master Guy Manton, a 
gentleman of her court. 

April 30. 

Queen Mary is getting along. I have emended the 
first part very much, along the kind of lines that you and 
Maggie suggested, and have made Guy ever so much 
more interesting. All his hardness has become intentional 
instead of natural. He means to be hard now, because he 
sees he cannot make way without it. The burning of 
Latimer and Ridley is now his crisis, in which he deliber- 
ately chokes down his pity ; he then becomes a devil in 
consequence, and doesn't recover until the end of the 
book, when his pity for Mary conquers him. How is that ? 
Don't you think that an ingenious solution ? 

He assured Miss E. K. Martin : 

I am going to take immense pains — much more than 
with By What Authority — in order to make people see 
how unjustly they have treated her in the past. But that 
is a proud and high ambition. 

And later : 

Queen Mary is going along nicely. I think she will 
be good ; but for the last day or two I have stuck in a 
furious brawl, and my people wait hour after hour with 
uplifted weapons, and I can't let them put them down. At 


this moment someone is pausing with clenched fists and a 
savage expression. 

It is odd how these things run — apparently independ- 
ent of one's will and intellect. 

This was often so with him. Later on, when he tried 
to rewrite the Charles II book, he complained : 

August 10, 1905. 

I am dingily rewriting an old book. What weary work 
that is ! . . . This is the fourth time of rewriting. . . . 
Also I am doing about eleven thousand other things 
simultaneously. . . . When I write for the first time my 
characters do their own business and say their own words 
entirely. Then I have to select them in rewriting, and 
have an eye on the readers, and it is just exactly this that 
I HATE. E.g. in my present book two people have a long 
technical interview. Now they did have it, and they said 
just those things. But the public would be bored by 
listening ; I can't utter a word. So I have to refuse to 
be in the room with them, and the result is that pages 
of labour disappear, and we are left waiting outside with 
a dull clergyman until they have done. Now, how heart- 
breaking ! Because it is really very interesting indeed, and 
all perfectly true. 

By May 6 he made a disastrous discovery : 

I am discovering the secret of economy of time, which 
is always to do two things simultaneously. I read Queen 
Mary and Hadrian VI I ^ while I eat, dress, undress, go 
from room to room, and combine walking always with the 
things I have got to do. It is simply delightful. 

Many readers have found The Queen's Tragedy a diffi- 
cult book to like. At a first reading, Benson, who could 
do, no doubt, without plots, does seem to have, as it were, 
just chucked down his psychological impressions in slabs, 
sandwiched between page after page of pageantry. The 
pageantry of the book is, one may confess, superb. There 
are unforgettable scenes : the palaces, with Mary's pre- 

^ Of Hadrian VII I shall say a word below, Vol. II, p. 94. 
I 2 B 


sence so strongly felt even when unseen ; the episode of 
Philip's coming to Winchester ; the preparation of the 
Cathedral on the night before the marriage ; the marriage 
itself (seen, as Benson loves to have his great moments 
viewed, imperfectly, from an angle, by a secondary per- 
sonage often — in this instance by Jack Norris, the easy- 
going gentleman-usher : later, Mary herself will view the 
return of the Benedictines to Westminster from her private 
place above King Edward's shrine) ; above all, the recon- 
ciliation of England with the Holy See. 

But the psychology itself, on which in this book we are 
meant to concentrate, somehow fails to convince in all 
save one all-important instance. To tell the truth, Benson 
was applying a principle which later on he formulated in 
the following short conversation : 

" Why don't you take more trouble over your novels ? " 
a friend once asked him. " If a thing's worth doing at all, 
it's worth doing well." 

" I totally disagree," he energetically exclaimed. " There 
are lots of things which are worth doing, but aren't in the 
least worth doing well." 

He proceeded to explain that in his novels he wrote 
only to make one point, to "help" one reader, or perhaps 
one group of readers. If that point were but made, and 
those readers touched, " tout le reste n'est que litt^rature," 
and might be allowed to slide. How far an artist could 
permit himself thus to speak we may have an occasion of 
asking later on. Suffice it here to say that he wanted in 
this book, to which its title gives the key, to paint a spiritu- 
ally convincing portrait of Queen Mary, and as for con- 
struction, development, climax, and the like, at best all that 
was secondary. He did not bother about it, despite his 
determination to take such especially " great pains." Those 


all were concentrated on the central figure. Magdalene 
Dacre/ at first so charming, then so puzzlingly selfish and 
ineffective ; Jane Dormer, just ordinarily sweet, then with 
such hinted depths of spiritual intelligence ; Jack Norris, 
jolly and all too easy-going, and talkative, too often, in his 
cups ; Dick Kearsley, that seeming-sour, most honourable 
and loyal friend — all these, who with care might have been 
developed into real personages to live in literature, for 
each of them we are beginning to love, and feel ourselves 
defrauded as they vanish — are carelessly sketched in, 
treasures tossed out by a millionaire, too rich to care, 
adequately, for his own beautiful gift.^ In them too is 
visible that element of noisiness in description, which is 
his who wishes to make, quickly, a strong effect, without 
the patience to accumulate the small touches which shall 
at last produce it forcefully. These people in the " Mary 
Book" are all the time "snapping," "snarling," "hissing," 
even " barking " :^ they bite their lips, and bare their teeth, 
and they are always at it. Now, is not this hurry and 
buffeting ; are we not pushed about — not imperceptibly led 
forward, with infrequent shocks just to make us realise the 
distance we have travelled or the goal we have reached ? 
Here is, perhaps, an impressionist hurling down of colours 
side by side which is not really craftsmanship, but violence 
in place of strength, and audacity instead of courage. 

But what about Guy Manton ? Assisted by the letter 
quoted above I would argue that Hugh Benson changed 
his mind about him in the middle of his tale. Guy was 

^ Magdalene Dacre, it appears, was in reality married before Queen Mary's 

* As for the Reformers, Ridley and Latimer, we simply cannot tell what we 
are supposed to think of them and of their martyrdom. Are they caricatures? 
contemptible? pathetic? genuinely tragic? Perhaps Benson himself was torn 
two ways in their regard. Perhaps he had just not made up his mind. 

^ In T/ie Necromancers we shall have a Lady Laura who mews. 


not at first meant to be a psychological study at all. How- 
ever, he certainly became one, and that, a study in hardness. 
Now, why did Hugh do this ? Nothing would be more 
tiresome than to insist that in each of his chief characters 
Hugh reproduced one side at least of himself. Yet I will 
be bold to say that there is one passage which might very 
well have been written about Hugh by an outside unsym- 
pathetic observer just then at Cambridge : 

[Guy] was a strange creature ; they could understand 
neither his tenderness nor his spasms of rage. He had 
made himself ridiculous more than once in his friendships 
by showing a compassion for queer persons they could not 
comprehend ; and he had made himself a little terrible, too, 
half a dozen times in his furies against disloyalty, and his 
contempt of what they considered academic finesse. 

However, just at this time Hugh was going through 
some quite singular experiences connected with friendship 
and the duties of loyalty, and was likely to be, for some 
time, increasingly misunderstood in this and other points. 
That his character contained an element of hardness, 
which he sometimes deplored, and at other times would 
cultivate, but always recognised, few should really find it 
hard to recognise along with him. And just now the 
loneliness, and the necessity of hardening one's self to deal 
with positive rebuff no less than negative neglect coming 
from most widely diverse quarters, were prominent topics 
in his consciousness. But it will be easier to observe them 
separately, and later on in his life, than to try to study 
him in the person of Guy Manton ; not only, I repeat, be- 
cause the description of Manton is unequally sketched in, 
is properly worked out neither at the outset of his harden- 
ing, in its development and as it were crystallisation, and 
least of all in its break-up and disintegration, but because 


Hugh himself, in character, was so far from his full self- 

But Hugh had set to work to draw, primarily, a 
picture of Queen Mary, and knew how difficult his task 
was : 

She is pious ; she is zealous ; she has a will of her 
own ; she is cold ; she is hot ; she is miserly ; she is 
liberal ; she has a sad soul and a merry dress ; she is 
silent ; she can speak like an orator, for I heard her at the 
Guildhall in February, and she set my heart afire ; then 
she put it out again next day by her coldness. 

Could Hugh Benson " make a woman out of that " ? 
Well, somehow, he succeeded, I believe, despite the very 
many Catholic critics who felt, no doubt, that the Catholic 
Queen ought to have been pictured as more attractive. 
And to begin with, observe this artist's honesty. If, indeed, 
the portraits of the crimson-faced and swollen Henry, and 
the haggard wanton, his daughter Elizabeth, were propa- 
gandist caricatures (and in The Queen's Tragedy, Elizabeth 
in her radiant, seductive youth is no less repulsive) why 
could not Benson have made Queen Mary charming? 
Quite simply he refused to tamper with what he thought 
the truth — he gave rein to that rather terrible realism 
which side by side with his mystical sense and creative 
imagination was so fast developing in him. Mary in this 
book is tragically impotent to charm, and half the time 
shocks, offends, and alienates her court, her country, and, 
as I said, so many moderns who were fain to love her. 

Frankly, the title gives the book its key. The whole 
motive is failure within ; from without, defeat. Mary dies 
quite sure that her husband scorns her, having left no heir, 
foreseeing Elizabeth's accession, and the collapse of her 
one hope, the restoration in England of Catholicism. No 


death of her own body could compare with the spiritual 
ruin of one soul, even ; and she foresaw that of an entire 
nation, and she felt that had she been other, all still might 
have been well. She had acted always for the best, and 
her action had brought ruin. There was her tragedy. 

Her long increasing illness is described by Benson with 
extraordinary imaginative insight. How, one asks, could 
he possibly have known all that ? Down to the least detail 
he is accurate — the hideous headache Mary's heavy doze 
in the arm-chair would have caused ; the special horrors of 
that giddiness which sheer weakness puts into the brain. . . . 
Benson had not, it is true, been gravely ill himself ; but I 
believe he must, already even, have felt ill, as nervous 
natures can ; and he watched himself accurately, and multi- 
plied his sensations, and surmised their analogies, and lit by 
sheer experiment upon others.^ But upon the mysterious 
method of Death's coming, how did he alight so strangely 
well ? How, so early in his career, was he so at home in 
those shadowy regions ? I think the whole of that last 
chapter, in which " Mary the Queen decides her last 
matters and takes her leave " emigrates entirely from the 
ordinary realms of successful art into those of inspiration 
and of awe. I do not feel as if Benson himself quite 
realised how terribly and solemnly real a work he was 
creating. One day, at the stroke of the luncheon bell, 
he walked into the Llandaff House dining-room rubbing 
his hands with glee and in perfectly radiant spirits. 
" Queen Mary's d-d-dead," he exclaimed. " She has been 
dying all the morning. Such a death-bed — really, it's too 
moving — quite tremendous — but I am completely done up." 
" I think," my informant adds, " that he said it was the 

^ "Have you ever slapped your arm with a certain sort of primula?" he 
disconcertingly inquires of Mr. Rolfe. " It produces eczema." 


best description of her death-bed he had ever seen." Is not 
that strange ? After writing pages of such power and 
poignancy, it might well be wondered at that he should 
have been able to eat or talk at all. The chapel, one might 
have thought, would have summoned him, rather than the 

In these experiences of the dying, which he undoubtedly 
perceives from within the sick woman's brain, he uses in a 
masterly way the data of external fact for the construction 
of her sense-hallucinations, and then, of her spiritual 
aspirations. Is not that as it should be ? The priest in 
his red-crossed sulphur-coloured vestment becomes the 
misty figure with the enormous Sign of man's salvation at 
its back, and the Sun held to its heart. . . . The liveries of 
her servants, and the longed-for heir, give her the material 
for those troops of green- and white-clad children whose 
footsteps tinkle through her room, bringing with them all 
sweet memories of dew and sunlit dawn and breeze. 
Earlier in the book a true note was struck. " It is not," 
Jane Dormer said of the cold Queen, "that she has no 
heart, but that it has been broken too often, and she fears 
to show it now." And at the end, the exhausted woman 
finds that death was better than mere ceasing of life's old 
torment. " In te, Morte, si posa nostra ignuda natura, 
lieta no, ma sicura dall' antico dolor." Mary saw the utter 
failure of all her nature's effort ; but even as Hugh Benson, 
braver than Leopardi, will one day cry out, " My whole 
Gospel is : There is no such thing as failure," so she is 
now longing to proclaim to all the world " how great and 
sweet was death." Viaticum came to her : 

She was conscious of her body again now, her wasted 

^ He also wrote a small pamphlet for the Catholic Truth Society, comparing 
Mary's death-bed with Elizabeth's. 


limbs, her shrunken breast ; and through every fibre of it 
stole a sweetness. It was to that hideous and distorted 
thing that the sweet Body of her Lord had come ; it was 
that piteous soul that had so toiled with troubles, and 
striven with desire and fierce passion, perplexed, buffeted, 
despised, that the stainless and tormented soul, the awful 
Divinity of the God whom she had so ineffectually tried to 
serve, had deigned to visit. 

^^ Jesu ! Jesu ! " she whispered, " esto vcv^ijesu ! I have 
failed, dear Jesus, but Thou hast not." 

So not even her poor love-story really ended, at the 
last, in tragedy. 

And Hugh's mother wrote to him from Tremans : 

I can't describe how it moves me, nor how in love with 
death it seems to make one. . . . This last half-hour we 
have followed her from within ; it all moves round now — 
the strange spaces, the lawn, the sweet children, the 
turning to deeds of duty that have to be done, the appear- 
ance of faces and their disappearance, the utter helpless- 
ness, the sweetness of pardon and peace — all events, even 
to most of her Court having gone to Elizabeth — all in God's 
hands — no bitterness. The great Rites, and the lifted and 
interpenetrated soul — and the Coming of the Lord, the Sun 
of righteousness — it is all too much to speak of ; it did 
happeny«^^ so. 

It appears to me that Richard Raynal, Solitary, which 
he began early in 1905, was the direct expression of his 
inward craving for solitude. This wais very strong at this 
period ; I shall return to it explicitly in a later chapter. 
He kept his mother and some friends closely acquainted 
with the progress of the book, and on July 2, 1905, wrote to 
one of these : 

My hermit comes to me straight from heaven. I am 
more certain that he exists than that I do. 

He had written earlier to his mother that 

the hermit moves me immensely ; but it is either very 
good indeed, or very bad indeed ; and I am not quite 


sure which. It is extremely mystical, and written in per- 
fectly plain English, hammered with great care, rather like 
The Hill of Trouble}- I find my handwriting becoming 
pointed and fifteenth century. I long to read it aloud to 

June 30. 

I have FINISHED the first draft of The Hermit and the 
King. It is so moving that I don't know what to do ; and 
has a dull cynical introduction and cynical footnotes as 
a foil. 

The book presented itself as a very free re-translation 
of a French version of an English MS. belonging to the 
end of the sixteenth century. This Vita et obitus Dni. 
Ricardi Raynal Hereniitce was given as written by Sir John 
Chadfield, the parish priest of the neighbourhood in which 
Richard Raynal had his cell, and as edited by Fr. Benson, 
with an elaborate introduction concerning the discovery of 
the MS. in Rome, with footnotes, and, above all, pointed 
excisions of Sir John's tedious disquisitions and moralising, 
at which the editor is never tired of poking fun. 

Concerning this book, too, he was bombarded with 
questions as to whether it was fiction. People were furious 
when they found the introduction and notes were an elabo- 
rate " take in." Mrs. Craigie had certainly bewildered even 
the most cautious readers by her footnotes to the School 
for Saints and Robert Orange. Benson's device was but 
sketchily worked out compared to the enormously compli- 
cated machinery by which Mr. Montgomery Carmichael 
led practically every single critic to account his Auto- 
biography of fohn William Walshe (a book allied in a 
hundred ways to Richard Raynal) to be true history. But 
I doubt if I am mistaken in putting down as the immediate 

1 By Mr. A. C. Benson. It Wcis Mr. Reginald Balfour who supplied him with 
most, perhaps, of the facts he used in Richard Raynal. In collaboration, too, 
with him and Yr. Sebastian Ritchie of the Birmingham Oratory, he joined in 
composing the delightful Child's Alphabet of Saints. 


occasion of his ingenious metiiod, Mr. Rolfe's " translation " 
Don Tarquinio?- 

It is — perhaps, though, because we do know that Richard 
Raynal is pure fiction — difficult to see how it could have 
been taken for a transcript. All manner of comments, 
appreciations, facts of observation, terms of comparison, 
even objects of sensation (as, for instance, colour, harped 
upon in a way quite unknown to mediaeval sestheticism, I 
think), belong utterly to the modern mentality. And these 
are far too integral to the book to be due to any mere 
translator's licence. Benson himself expected this to be 
seen, and was restless under accusations. He wrote : 

The Light Invisible, I should have thought, carried 
" fiction " written all over it. Not one review, and I have 
seen, I suppose, between fifty and a hundred, ever suggested 
that it was anything else. But, really, if anyone will take 
the trouble to read the title-page of Richard Raynal, I do 
not think he could possibly fall into the mistake again. A 
" translator " could not possibly write The History of Richard 
Raynal, Solitary, BY Robert Hugh Benson. 

The story is fragmentary, and portrays the life of a 
young hermit from the time when the call of God came to 
him, bidding him visit the King — Henry VI presumably, for 
Benson affects that his MS. omits all names of places and 
persons and all dates, a proceeding which certainly saves a 
deal of trouble. The hermit goes to Westminster, announces 
to the sick youth his approaching " passion," which super- 
induces in the King an epileptic fit of a more or less 
mysterious kind ; after the scourging, cajoling, and mani- 
fold temptation of the hermit, and finally the murderous 
attack upon him, a revulsion of feeling causes him to be 

1 Don Tarquinio certainly was to serve as model for the original plan of St. 
Thomas of Canterhiry. One rather pathetic case was that of a lady who, sick 
of fiction, turned with relief to "real historical work like Richard Raynair 
" But," she asked, "why did I'"r. Benson leave out parts of the MS. ?" 


regarded as a saint, and to be set " with the rich in his 
death," to be laid on the king's own bed, and there to die. 

There are three dominant motifs in the book : first, the 
life of inner solitude with God, that lofty form of prayer 
which has carried a man beyond the level, even, where he 
must resist nature ; for now nature is no more a separation 
from God but a sacrament which brings Him near : second, 
the passion and pain incidental to all achievement of voca- 
tion : and third, the failure of the " world's coarse thumb 
and finger " to plumb the nature of this life and joy, and 
pain and death. The first of these he elaborated with the 
help of Gorres and Richard Rolle of Hampden, finding 
himself unable to add the infusion of Cornelius Agrippa> 
to which Mr. Rolfe was constantly urging him. Certainly, 
he captures a most fresh and fragrant atmosphere, a 
Franciscan gaiety, and he is happy in the conspiration of 
Nature with the Supernatural in the praise of God. Extreme 
simplicity, perfect cleanness, much clear colour — yellows, 
skiey blues, all the tender greens of vegetation — char- 
acterise the life Raynal leads in his thatched hut in the 
forest. Benson deliberately leaves all dark or gloomy 
elements to one side at the first. This lovely life with God is 
to be sheer happiness, in which all creation, life of beast 
and bird and leaf, joins. Richard was a Parsifal, for whom 
Good Friday did but make the world sweeter and more 
" childlike pure " with flowers. Exidtavit spiritus mens. 

The hermit is himself beautiful; in feature, even : God's 
"darling," specialissimus. Into this resurrection of long- 
lost innocence had the earlier " passions " of penance and 
prayer elevated the young man ; a completed passion was 
to perfect him into the likeness of the Crucified, and daring 
analogies are set forth between these Sufferers, scourged 
and flouted by the courts, and by men at arms, and by 


the crowd, though certain biographers have before now far 
outstripped Hugh Benson in a like method of comparing 
St. Francis of Assisi with his Model. 

Two strong contrasts are set beside the hermit : the 
rather dull, pious old priest (in whom Benson was fond of 
detecting himself, much to the annoyance of his wor- 
shippers, who preferred to find him in Richard Raynal. 
This idea never failed to provoke in him those gleeful 
giggles to which from time to time he fell a helpless 
victim) ; and the Ankret in his foul cell at Westminster, 
an assault upon the refined sensations of certain more 
fastidious among his readers, for which they have never 
quite forgiven him. Yet the Ankret, too, had his place in 
God's scheme of asceticism : this world, God might decree, 
might have to be neglected or even spurned ; though just 
about this time Benson was writing to a friend : " I do not 
believe that lovely things have to be stamped upon. Should 
they not rather be led in chains ? " But Richard Raynal 
had his escort of whatsoever things are beautiful, without 
even needing to enchain them. . . . However, a definite 
link may be noticed between Benson and Raynal's King. 
This it is impossible to explain, because the essence 
of it is in a certain negativeness, an inhibition of thought 
and judgment, a bewilderment in face of life, of the future, 
of duty, above all, of the Unknown. It was a kind of 
spiritual paralysis of which no account was to be given; 
in which you could only wait, dazed, somehow, by the 
unmanageable mystery of immediate life. It is hard to 
describe anything so essentially blank, and featureless, 
and numbing. Nor can I do other than dogmatically 
assert that Hugh, at his hours, experienced this, and 
strongly. Into the King, then, he put not a little of 
himself. Yet Raynal was indeed that emancipated self 


Hugh prayed to be, and was not, though in the visioned 
possibility he found consolation. " All that I hoped to be, 
and was not, comforts me." " All I could never be : All, 
men ignored in me, this was I worth to God. . . ." So, 
after all, in a real sense Benson was Raynal too. 

He loved this book, and to the end thought it the most 
artistic of his works. Perhaps in this he is right. With 
every part of it he found himself in sympathy. Even the 
red-faced Cardinal (do you notice how Benson hates 
" crimson-faced " men ? The distaste keeps showing itself, 
in almost every book, of the historical sort at least) cannot 
go wholly unabsolved by him. But here, as ever, true to 
a strange quality in his artistic method, he throws a veil 
of doubt on the whole affair. As sub-title, summing up 
the book, he quotes from Seneca the saying that no great 
talent — not even, does he hint ? — that of finding God in 
mystic prayer, has existed without an admixture of 

The Mirror of Shalott, which was being put into its 
final shape at Llandaff House, consisted of the ghost stories 
which he began in Rome, but were not published in book 
form till 1907. They appeared first in Catholic periodicals, 
and are said to have created, at first, the impression of 
being little more than "pot-boilers." They are, it will 
be remembered, stories put into the mouths of a group 
of priests assembled in what Benson names the Canadian 
Church of San Filippo in Rome. This is, of course, a 
kind of glorified San Silvestro, and the priests are of 
that predominantly unattractive type which perhaps 
reflects Hugh's rather aloof interior attitude, noticeable 

1 I do not know where Benson was at this time getting himself supplied with 
apt quotations from the classics. Every chapter in The Queen's Tragedy is prefaced 
by one. He certainly did not discover them himself, nor did he invent them. 
Nor was it Mr. A. C. Benson who provided them. 


at this time, towards his fellow clergy, and which after- 
wards was so happily modified. He had, however, hoped, 
at first, to publish the stories he had finished together 
with some by his sister and others by a friend. The 
publishers to whom they were offered pointed out their 
lack of unity, and wanted Miss Benson to make them 
all Egyptian in setting, for in two of her tales she 
had used an Egyptian background with great success. 
She refused to do this, and pointed out that a unity 
was observable in them, owing to the gradual crescendo 
of the mystical note, while the contrasts of scene added 
necessary variety. While she deprecated her brother's 
discursiveness, she willingly accepted, from his stories, 
three, which she entitled The Haunt of Death (this is 
Mr. Percival's story in the Mirror, about that iron mine 
for which an exploration party in Wales had furnished 
Hugh with all the staging) ; The House without a Soul{'' Mr. 
Benson's " very weird story) ; and a chapter entitled 
The Music of the Other World. Nuretnberg; of which I 
can find no trace and no explanation. The idea of the 
whole book was, to picture forth "the world within the 
world," or, if you will, "the soul within the world." 
Collaboration between Hugh Benson and anyone else 
was, I believe, an impossibility, and the plan fell through. 
The ideal survived, however. In ghost stories, he argued, 
the "real thing" expresses itself as far as possible in a 
certain medium. They are the translation of the super- 
natural into the natural, and therefore only analogical 
to any true statement, even, of fact. Spiritual events 
undoubtedly (any Christian will admit) occur : how they 
occur, not we with our brains dependent upon matter 
for their imagery can define ; whether individual portents 
have occurred — well, you must decide for yourself upon 


the evidence. So the book begins, and so it ends. Mean- 
while the stories move successfully upon the whole, and 
had no need of the author's continual reminder that 
they are very gruesome. Fr. Meuron " flashes his eyes 
dreadfully round the circle " and " dashes forward " in his 
emotion : pipes drop, cigarettes go out ; " nerves thrill 
like a struck harp." We do not like being told when 
to jump.' 

There are but few personal reminiscences in this 
work. Cornwall and Wales give him background 
and something of their spiritually surcharged atmos- 
phere. This may be significant : those districts are 
different enough, in psychic value, from opulent though 
fairy-haunted Sussex. In Fr. Maddox's story, too, there 
is a reflection, unless I am mistaken, of Lord Halifax's 
house, Garrowby, and very much more than a reflection 
of how Benson wrote his novels and almost saw the ghosts 
he longed quite to encounter. Later, in a chapter on his 
psychic experiences, or lack of them, and in that which 
deals with his Mysticism, I may venture to speak of his 
whole attitude towards the preternatural manifesting itself 
at different levels, such as (at lowest) clicks in furniture, 
mysterious steps, " sensed " presences ; or (a little higher) 
unwonted thought - transference or self - hypnotism ; or 
again, ecstasy, and the quieting of a soul for prayer, when 
the spiritual forces, evil equally with good, find so easy an 
access to its habitually sealed recesses. And here must 
enter the phenomena of madness and " possession " 
(which Benson believed so much supposed lunacy to be), 
and above all that summing up of the " Otherness," which 
the soul in moments of extreme inward silence diagnoses, 
into a Person, a Watcher, ready to invade if he be but 
given the opportunity. As well as ever in The Necromancers, 


Benson here can create for us that horrible sense of silence 
round about us, in which dreadful forces are alert and 
watching us. All ages have felt this in their way : the 
Greeks especially, for whom the loveliness of the summer's 
noon-day sleep trembled easily towards the terrible ; that 
was the moment when they " saw nymphs," and the Panic 
fear stirred their hair and blood. . . . And more, almost 
than in the later book, Benson here insists on the torruption 
of ordinary things — sometimes sheer bread and meat, 
sometimes of a whole art, like painting — by some in- 
dwelling spirit of evil. 

Hugh Benson did not any more " play at ghosts " as 
he used in his undergraduate days, in the Fellows' garden 
of King's, pouncing on the runaway, and half killed with 
the delicious terror of himself being pounced upon ; but 
he retailed thes.e stories to the newer generation, round the 
fire, and, Mr. Shane Leslie tells us, his success was huge. 

And — how strangely, it will seem to many — this man 
who mused upon tragic Queens a-dying, and philosophised 
upon the nature of the soul, and saw the whole world 
saturated with gigantic forces, good and evil, fighting for 
the destiny of humanity, was still boy enough to write with 
glee to a distant friend that he has resumed his ancient 
practice of making caches, and is hiding all sorts of trivial- 
ities, with inscriptions, in secret crannies of Cambridge 
and of Ely buildings. I suppose that at this moment 
fives-balls and buttons and halfpence, muffled in mottoes, 
are awaiting discovery in those walls, for the mystification 
of generations yet to be. 

There is nothing left, I think, to be told about this 
three terms' sojourn at Llandaff House. Father Benson 
had not been idle during it ; in fact, his literary output 
had been enormous. But he never had guessed that that 


was to have been the chief occupation of his first year of 
priesthood. He wanted to act directly upon souls, and to 
administer those sacraments over which he knew himself 
to possess power. Moreover, unfamiliarity, too, may breed 
contempt, or at least, suspicion : very emphatically it must 
be said that this year of rather inevitable isolation accentu- 
ated, by a drop of bitterness, that dislike for his fellow 
clergy which, at first, was rather just a supercilious aloof- 
ness due to his fastidious bringing up and mercurial tem- 
perament. To this is due quite an appreciable part of 
the harshness with which, in his books, he draws them. 
In the next years of full sacerdotal life, this (for his soul 
was just and generous) will be put right ; and it is here, 
in my opinion, that the true division in his life must be 
placed. Even Llandaff House was for him a period of 
preparation. The full and public life began at Cambridge 





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